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Illinois police show confidence in vests

By Pat Krochmal and Matt Dominis
The Online Pioneer Press

DES PLAINES, Ill. - Des Plaines police are not up in arms over the suspected vulnerability of their protective vests.

Although 100 officers in the department have vests carrying the Second Chance brand name, only about one third (29) took advantage of the company''s trade-in offer or a free liner that should provide extra protection if the Zylon fabric in the vests fails.

Most of the officers seem to agree with Sgt. Nicholas Treantafeles, who continues to have enough confidence in his vest to disregard both offers.

"Depending on who you talk to, the material in the vests is deteriorating faster than the vest is guaranteed to last, which is five years. But Second Chance, which is the largest manufacturer of the vests that use Zylon, said that their testing indicated no problem with the vest," Treantafeles said.

"However, because the company was in the forefront of the industry and believed in its product, it offered officers who purchased the vests two options. They could trade their vests in for an upgraded vest and pay the difference, or they could get a ''performance pack,'' a thin vest panel that would fit inside and double the protection," he added.

Those officers who decided to get the liner thought "Well, if the company is offering them for free, why take a chance? We''ll get them," Treantafeles said.

A fluke?

The salesman representing the company, a retired lieutenant who spent 30 years with the Cook County Sheriff''s Police Department and knows about weapons and ballistics, thought the failure of the vest worn by the officer in Forest Hill, Pa., was a fluke, he said.

"The last I checked, the testing was not even completed on the bullet that pierced the vest. For all that we know, it could be a Teflon bullet that will go through anything. Also, the vests come in various levels of strength and the vest that the bullet entered was a level 2A. Officers in our department get level 2 vests, which are one level stronger," Treantafeles said.

"I think a bunch of the people who are complaining just decided to get on the bandwagon against the company and maybe get a free vest. That was one vest that failed in thousands. Second Chance even took Zylon from the same lot that the pierced vest was made from and tested it with various caliber bullets, and the material stopped them. So I have 100 percent confidence in our vests," he added.

The Mount Prospect Police Department is unaffected by the change. It officer uses bulletproof vests from Tennessee-based Paca Body Armor Inc., said Crime Prevention Officer Dirk Ollech.

The department provides a vest for each of its 82 sworn officers, Ollech said.

Second Chance Body Armor of Central Lake, Michigan, which supplies vests, announced in September their concerns about a synthetic fiber called Zylon, used in their Ultima II and Ultimax vests.

"Second Chance gave departments some upgrade options and it was up to each department to exercise their preference," Second Chance Spokesman Gregg Smith said.

Add inserts

Second Chance offered departments the option to add Kevlar inserts, called Performance Pacs, to the Zylon vests or a credit toward the purchase of replacement vests made of Kevlar.

A 27-year-old police officer from California was killed during a traffic stop last June after two bullets penetrated his vest.

The officer''s vest was less than a year old, Smith said.

That same month, a officer in Pennsylvania was by a bullet that penetrated his vest.

The National Association of Police Organizations filed a class action lawsuit against Armor Holdings, Toyobo, America, Inc. and Toyobo Co. Ltd. earlier this month for selling defective equipment to more than 100,000 people and agencies.

Second Chance announced its replacement program for two reasons, Smith said.

"First, Toyobo, the manufacturer of Zylon, posted test lab results years earlier raising some concern about the product. In June, Second Chance began testing of more than 200 vests in 19 states that contained Zylon," Smith said. "We found that 30 percent of the vests tested degraded and some were less than a year old."

The injury and death of the two officers also played a role in the company''s decision to launch a replacement program, he said.

The vests have a five year warranty. Vests run between $300 and $1,200, depending on the model. Smith cautions that protective vests are designed to absorb the impact of a bullet by dispersing its energy, but are not bullet-proof.

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