Police Agencies Warned About Faulty Body Armor

Citing a potential risk to law enforcement officers throughout the state, Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office is investigating the sale of certain bulletproof vests by a Michigan-based company.

The company, Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., has acknowledged that its Zylon-based "Ultima" and "Ultimax" vests wear out faster than expected and may pose a potential safety risk.

Concerns about the vests arose after separate incidents in which an officer in California was killed and an officer in Pennsylvania was wounded when their vests were pierced by bullets. No similar deaths or injuries have been reported in New York, but more than 6,000 of the company's Zylon-based vests are believed to have been sold in New York.

"Law enforcement agencies and officers throughout the state should be aware that vests made with Zylon may fail to provide adequate protection," Attorney General Spitzer said. "My office is investigating this situation and is helping to coordinate an appropriate response."

To ensure that law enforcement agencies throughout the state are aware of the problem and to enable his office to formulate a coordinated response to the problem, Spitzer will notify by letter all police commissioners, police chiefs and sheriffs. The letter will state that the investigation "will be exploring, among other issues, the extent to which Second Chance may have been aware of the problem with the vests prior to their September 2003 announcement and failed to warn users, and whether the company has taken reasonable steps to address the situation."

Rather than recall the vests and issue full refunds or replacements, Second Chance has offered free upgrade kits to supplement the performance of its Zylon-based vests by the insertion of additional protective padding. However, some law enforcement officers claim that the upgrades are unacceptable because they add considerable bulk and weight to the vests. Also, ballistic testing of the upgrade kits has not yet been completed.

The company has also offered a trade-in program which gives current Ultima and Ultimax owners a credit toward the purchase of a Second Chance replacement vest. However, this option requires another purchase, in spite of the product's five-year warranty period, and may be unfair under the circumstances.

Second Chance body armor vests sell for $800 to $1,400 each, depending on accessories.

Spitzer urged law enforcement agencies that wish to replace their Zylon-based armor to apply for funding through the Office of Justice Programs' Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) grant program. Applications for additional funding from the BVP grant program must be submitted by April 1, 2004. Applicants can contact the BVP grant program help desk at 1-877-758-3787 for immediate assistance.

Spitzer said the matter was brought to the attention of his office by the Clarkstown Police Department in Westchester County. The New York State Police does not use the Zylon-based vests. There may be private purchasers of Zylon-based vests, and Spitzer encouraged them to file complaints with his office.

The investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Doris Morin under the supervision of Gary Brown, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Westchester Regional Office.


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