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January 04, 2005
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Dept. of Justice body armor safety initiative supplemental report

At PoliceOne, we have been closely monitoring developments during the past year and a half regarding body armor safety and the use of Zylon in ballistic vests. Last week, the Department of Justice, released a supplemental report to their testing. The report is included below and details possible causes of body armor failure in an incident in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. The report also contains findings concerning the ballistic performance of upgrade kits for Zylon(R)-based armor manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor.

For more information on these issues, please be sure to visit our Zylon section, which outlines much of what has been published or released regarding this important topic.

Supplement I: Status Report to the Attorney General on Body Armor
Safety Initiative Testing and Activities

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On November 17, 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Department of Justice''s Body Armor Safety Initiative in response to concerns from the law enforcement community regarding the effectiveness of their armor. He directed the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to implement a new initiative "to address the reliability of body armor...and to examine the future of bullet-resistant technology and testing."

As part of the Attorney General''s directive, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) held a Body Armor Summit in March 2004. At the same time, NIJ released its report, "Status Report to the Attorney General on Body Armor Safety Initiative Testing and Activities."

NIJ has recently submitted a supplemental report to the Attorney General detailing possible causes of body armor failure in an incident in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. The report also contains findings concerning the ballistic performance of upgrade kits for Zylon(R)-based armor manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor. A full copy of this supplemental report is available online at:

Full Report: https://vests.ojp.gov/docs/207605.pdf (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Summary of Interim Findings:

The following is a summary of interim findings from the work conducted by NIJ since the announcement of the Attorney General''s Body Armor Safety Initiative:

  • Research conducted thus far has supported the fact that ballistic-resistant materials, including Zylon®, can degrade. Degradation may reduce the ballistic-resistance safety margin that armor manufacturers build into their armor designs. It is imperative that manufacturers understand the vulnerabilities of materials used in their armor designs, take steps to protect the materials against these vulnerabilities, and account for any sources of performance loss during the armor design process.

  • Determining the performance level of used armor is a difficult and complex task. This was demonstrated by the Forest Hills body armor examination discussed above. Attempting to: 1) assess the condition of used armor; 2) replicate that condition by weakening "new" armors; and 3) determine why the armor may have allowed a penetration from a bullet it was designed to defeat has proven to be extremely challenging. There are numerous factors, or combination thereof, that appear to influence the ballistic resistance of body armor.

  • Through research conducted, it appears that there are analytical tools and techniques that can be used to reveal and measure degradation in ballistic-resistant fiber. It is anticipated that this will lead to a protocol for aging new armor to evaluate its performance, a definitive test for determining the performance level of armor in field use, and eventually to a non-destructive test method for determining the performance level of used armor.

  • Upgrade kits do not appear to bring used Second Chance armor up to the level of performance of new Second Chance armor. NIJ conducted a series of statistically based ballistic tests to determine the acceptability of upgrade kits offered by

    Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., for use with Ultima® and Ultimax® models of body armor. Significant backface signatures were experienced during testing. Additionally, two of the level IIIA armor samples experienced a penetration when tested with an upgrade kit, which signifies that the upgrade kit does not afford adequate protection for level IIIA armor, as specified in the NIJ Standard. Based on tests conducted, although the upgrade kit did not return the well-worn armor samples to the level of performance of new armor, they did provide added protection to the armors and hence increased safety. Therefore, officers that continue to wear the Ultima® and Ultimax® models of body armor should likewise continue using their upgrade kits.

  • Body armor has been credited with saving the lives of over 2,800 police officers. An officer who is not wearing armor is 14 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than an officer who is wearing armor.

    Therefore, law enforcement officers would be well advised to continue to wear body armor and carefully follow manufacturers'' instructions concerning its use and care.



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