NY: Agencies could recycle body armor for pay

By Daniel Wagner, Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.

When New York City agencies take their out-of-warranty protective vests to a Long Island recycling plant like they did earlier this month, they're not just shredding body armor - they're shredding cash.

In the past three years, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services has recommended that agencies including correction, the Queens district attorney's office and the parks department pay Gershow Recycling Corp. of Medford 25 cents per pound to place the vests in junk cars and send them through a massive shredder, department spokesman Mark Daly said.

But recycling experts and vest manufacturers say most government agencies, from the FBI to the Suffolk County sheriff's office, pay nothing or are compensated by companies that destroy the vests and resell the material to manufacturers of brake pads and flame-retardant curtains.

That means the vast stockpiles of vests warehoused by corrections and the NYPD could net the city tens of thousands of dollars and be destroyed just as safely.

"We did look into it and try to figure out a good, safe approach to doing it, and we did come up with one. There may be other ways of doing it that are better," said department commissioner Martha Hirst, adding that her priority was to keep the vests out of criminal hands.

Daly said that since the administrative services department discovered Gershow "through research" three years ago, it has referred to Gershow any offices that call his department, which is responsible for permitting city agencies to destroy inventory. He said agencies may follow the department's advice or find their own contractors.

But Newsday's inquiries prompted city officials to call for further investigation of the practice. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. began drafting a letter to the department and the NYPD on the matter, his spokesman said. Councilman Simcha Felder said he called Hirst, who pledged she would "investigate and report back to me."

Recently, the city correction department paid Gershow $4,600 to shred 6,415 vests, correction spokesman Mike Saucier said.

But, Newsday found, instead of being a cost, the vests could have generated income. At 2 pounds each, the 11,008 corrections vests from the May 2000 purchase alone could have netted the department more than $44,000, based on the "well over $2 a pound" that Peter Herrmann said his Harwich Port, Mass.-based American Falcon Inc. always pays vendors "for vests."

Suffolk County receives $2.75 for each vest its sheriff's department destroys under a contract that guarantees vests "will not be resold as possible functional protective body armor."

Kevin Gershowitz, vice president of the family owned Gershow Recycling, wrote in an e-mail that he was unaware the material from vests his company destroys could be resold for $2 to $4 per pound, and that "we believed we performed a public service." Gershow manager Jonathan Abrams said the correction department had told Gershow the manufacturer "wanted a considerable amount more than we did" to destroy the vests.

But Second Chance Body Armor Inc., which Saucier said made 95 percent of the vests destroyed recently, always tells agencies inquiring about vest disposal to contact American Falcon or Fibertex International Inc. in Paterson, N.J., both of which have bought scrap from the company, according to Cindy Visnew, a sales administrator who helped fit New York correction officers for their vests six years ago.

Steve Strauss of Fibertex International said his company charges nothing or pays a small amount to destroy vests for agencies including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Immigration Enforcement, the FBI, and "police departments across the country." The U.S. Secret Service has even thanked him for his efforts, documents show.

Strauss said his notes show that an NYPD officer called and "told me he had two trailerloads of vests he wanted destroyed" in March 2005. He said he offered to transport and destroy the vests for free, but never received a response. Herrmann said his company would reimburse agencies that choose to transport the vests themselves. NYPD spokesman John Kelly said, "At some point the decision was made to hang on to" the surplus vests, none of which have been destroyed. 


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