Cops to get better armored outfits; more resistant to some assault rifles

By Walt Philbin
The New Orleans Times-Picayune

NEW ORLEANS - Forty-four members of the New Orleans police Special Operations Division, which includes the SWAT team, are scheduled to receive improved body armor, possibly by the end of May, police said Wednesday.

State Rep. Arthur Morrell, D-New Orleans, sponsored legislation last year that included the equipment after speaking with police officers who told him their current body armor is vulnerable to many weapons used by violent criminals.

"They were telling me that their current body armor could be pierced by bullets from many of the semiautomatic weapons wielded by the drug dealers and other violent criminals they were handling," Morrell said.

The measure was passed last year as part of the appropriations bill, Morrell said, and provided $50,000 for the improved armor as soon as the money became available from the state's budget.

That happened only recently, when the Causeway Commission returned surplus money to the state, he said. Morrell this week handed a check to city officials, saying he realized the city was "strapped for cash."

The city will seek bids on the armor as soon as possible, police spokesman Captain Marlon Defillo said.

The armor represents an improvement both in the resistance to bullets from a number of types of assault rifles, and in the increased coverage of the officer's body, police said. The gear also protects against both handguns and low-velocity rifles.

"This is something called tactical body armor, which means it's designed to cover even more areas of the body because it's going to be used primarily by people serving high-risk warrants, and on SWAT operations," said Captain Harry Mendoza, commander of the Special Operations Division.

The armor will cover not only the officer's chest but also the shoulders and part of the neck with a large collar, and it will replace the armor now being used by NOPD SWAT teams, which is no longer under warranty, police said.

There isn't enough money to purchase protective plates that can be slipped into the armor to increase the protection, police said, but the NOPD plans to use plates it already has when officers know they are dealing with people who have high-powered rifles.

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