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DOJ releases initial findings on body armor performance

PoliceOne Special Report

The Department of Justice convened a summit Thursday to address the reliability issue of body armor used by law enforcement personnel, and to examine the future of bullet-resistant technology and testing.

In November, Attorney General John Ashcroft had called on the National Institute of Justice immediately to initiate examination of Zylon-based bullet resistant vests, both new and used, and to review NIJ''s existing certification process. This examination is the result of at least three incidents during 2003 wherein NIJ-compliant body armor appeared to have failed to prevent a bullet penetration.

The summit included representatives of federal, state and local law enforcement, law enforcement associations, manufacturers of bullet-resistant fabric and equipment, and standards and testing organizations -- to review the information available from NIJ''s preliminary examination.

The first phase of the examination included ballistic tests on a very limited sample of used Zylon vests that had been heavily worn or exposed to adverse conditions in the field.

The preliminary test results indicate that there may be degradation occurring in the ballistic performance of used Zylon-based armors. Only a small number of vests have been tested so far. Therefore, it is not possible to make any definitive conclusions about specific manufacturers, models, service life, or geographical region at this time.

PoliceOne has been closely monitoring these events and recommends the following:

Review all Information:

All officers and departments should thoroughly review the information available on the issue inorder to be fully aware of developments as they occur. The issue is complex, but affects the safety of all officers.

Wear Your Vest:

Continue to wear your vest regardless of its age or the components used in its manufacture. More than 2,700 officers have been saved by ballistic vests and an officer''s risk of fatality is 14 times greater when not wearing body armor.

Properly Maintain and Care for Your Vest:

Proper care is very important in maintaining the ballistic capabilities of your vest. Ballistic vests are NOT bulletproof and may not perform to specification if exposed to excess heat and moisture.

Inspect your vest on a regular basis. Check for irregularities, material bunching and/or excessive weight, due to the accumulation of moisture. Attempt to keep the ballistic panels as dry as possible. Do not leave your vest in a vehicle for prolonged periods of time. Protect your body armor from exposure to ultraviolet light.

Most importantly, always make sure to follow manufacturer guidelines for the storage and care of your vests.

For more information on a care and maintenance of body armor, PoliceOne has posted the following report:
Care and Maintenance of Body Armor

Make Informed Purchases of Body Armor:

If you are purchasing a new vest, fully research the body armor you are considering for purchase and understand all possible issues. PoliceOne''s Body Armor Section (www.policeone.com/bodyarmor) is an outstanding resource for researching and evaluating vests. When evaluating vests, make sure that you note the components used and the potential performance issues around each. Many vests are now hybrids, meaning they combine a number of different materials.

Also, read all of the manufacturer-provided literature that is issued with your body armor. This literature should explain proper fit, storage, care, cleaning and inspection of the ballistic panels and carriers.

When you receive your body armor, complete the warranty registration form and return it to the manufacturer. This will ensure that you receive immediate notification from the manufacturer as to concerns or safety notices regarding the body armor you are wearing.

Take Advantage of Funding Opportunities:

For departments considering purchasing new vests, the deadline to apply for funding under the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act is April 1, 2004.

The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 2000 provides funding priority for smaller jurisdictions with populations under 100,000. Any remaining funds may be allocated to support grants to jurisdictions with populations at or over 100,000.

In fiscal year 2003, all appropriated funds were awarded to smaller jurisdictions. For more information, Click Here.

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