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Zylon is a trademarked name for a range of thermoset liquid crystalline polyoxazole.

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Cool Cop body armor cooler

Police administration in conjunction with body armor manufacturers and fiber developers have come together to increase the wear rates of bulletproof vests with the help of better technology and mandatory wear policies.

According to statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a law enforcement officer’s job is extremely dangerous with one officer being killed every 53 hours in the line of duty. Even more astounding is that this number is on the rise. In 2011, 173 officers were killed, with 68 of them being killed due to a gun-related incident.

It’s hard-hit reality to what officers go through each day when they put on the uniform and put the gun in the holster and hit the streets. There is good news though: a good number of these deaths are preventable with the help of bullet-proof vests.

Based on information from the Police Executive Research Forum, police who don’t use their body armor on a regular basis are 14 times higher to suffer from a deadly injury than officers who wear them. Although the wear rates are higher than before, one-third of all officers don’t wear them.

Why Officers Choose Not To Wear Their Bulletproof Vests?
There are a number of reasons why officers don’t use their bulletproof vests:

  • Too heavy
  • Too hot
  • Too uncomfortable

Heat, comfort and weight are all reasons officers choose not to wear their vests every day. What can be done to get more officers to wear their vests?

3 Entities Working Together To Save Officers’ Lives
According to Point Blank Solutions, Inc. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mark Smith, there’s a three-prong approach to increase the wear rates. They include:

  • Police administration
  • Bulletproof vest manufacturers
  • Fiber developers

Smith said agencies should have a 100 percent wear rate as their goal because bulletproof vests save lives. He said getting that 100 percent will need to be a join effort that includes all three entities.

1 – Safety Starts At The Local Level
Right now, just 60 percent of agencies demand their officers wear their bulletproof vests while on duty. The Bulletproof Vest Partnership is looking to raise those numbers and save lives and will reimburse up to 50 percent of the purchase price so long as the agencies getting the money have a written policy in place that demands officers wear their uniforms.

Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury said each agency should have mandatory wear policies in place because the reality is bulletproof vests do save lives. He said it should be the agencies, not the government, setting the policies, as blanket wear policies don’t disclose certain situations within the departments.

Canterbury said officers in the Deep South work often in 90-degree heat so provisions should be made for them not to wear their vests. Provisions should also be made for the officers who go undercover. There are just some scenarios where a vest is not needed, which is why policies should be figured out on a local level.

DuPont Protection Technologies North American Business Leader Jeff Fackler said the surefire way to make sure there is an increase in wear rates and a decrease in injury and death is for every agency is to have those mandatory wear policies for their active-duty street officers. But, the policies need to be outfitted to their specific needs.

Canterbury said the policies need to clarify the kind of vests that’s required for each region. Administrators shouldn’t just look at money when trying to decide which vests are right for their officers. They should do their research to find the ideal vests.

2 – Safety Starts With Education
Another vitally important part in boosting the wear rate numbers is education. Since the mid-1970s, over 3,000 officers’ lives have been spared because of the bulletproof vests. It’s important officers understand why wearing their vests is so important to them, their family and their co-workers. It boils down to really one thing: each officer needs to commit to wear his/her vest.

Keep in mind that many people, at one time, would not wear their seatbelts because their viewed them as uncomfortable. Today, most folks understand the need to wear their seatbelt. This is the same issue with bulletproof vests.

There are a number of agencies with officers who don’t wear their body armor suits and look at them as keeping them from their jobs. With an influx of younger officers coming into the force and wearing their bulletproof vests, the rates will increase.

3 – Making The Fiber Better In Bulletproof Vests
There has been a significant amount of progress with the weight being taken from the fiber. And, because of this, more and more officers are opting to wear their bulletproof vests. When the weight is taken out of the fiber, manufacturers can create thinner, lither ballistic panels that help to boost comfort.

In 2003, Zylon fibers tarnished the reliability of bulletproof vests. What was learned about Zylon fibers was that they degraded quickly and didn’t protect officers as time passed. It was a black eye to the industry, which lead to more stringest testing from the National Institute of Justice.

Developments from a number of companies have helped bulletproof vests manufacturers to produce vests with weights that approach levels under NIJ’s standards.

With Level 2 vests, weights are under where they were initially under the previous NIJ standard. Not too long ago, Armor Express released a .81 pounds per square foot vest that meets all NIJ Standard-0101.06 requirements.

There are a number of packages that sport one to one and half pounds per square foot with some packages going as low as .76 pounds per square foot… all thanks to more durable, stronger fibers made by the fiber manufacturers.

Manufacturers play a critical role in the production of bulletproof vests, which is why they need to do research and development on materials to ensure that the body armor is comfortable and lighter without giving up the protection.

Testing Requirements For Bulletproof Vests To Ensure Comfort
According to the NIJ Standard-0101.06, vests must undergo more stringent testing including the following:

  • Increase of test velocities for Types II, IIA and IIIA vests
  • Increase in amount of shots under each vest to determine reliability
  • Test panels will need to pass the submersion test in 70-degree water for 30 minutes before test commences
  • Aggressive shot pattern
  • Test must be conducted after rapid aging process
  • Panels must be heat-sealed, not stitched and be inside water-resistant fabric so that the panels have a high moisture resistance level (Zylon would degrade when it was exposed to moisture.)

Manufacturers are required to meet these demands while also ensuring officers are comfortable wearing the vests. Manufacturers, to meet the NIJ requirements, will need to push past them and ensure that the products will also surpass the requirements demanded from the DEA and FBI agencies to stop bullets from injuring or killing officers in the line of duty.

Another Issue For Bulletproof Vests Manufacturers: Dealing With Heat
One of the biggest issues manufacturers have a problem with is heat. A big number of officers will not wear their vests when it’s hot outside because it’s just too uncomfortable for them. However, one research lab is working to change all that. Empa, in conjunction with Unico Swisstex, developed a Kevlar vest with a built-in cooling system.

The Kevlar vest has an integrated cooling system – coolpads that are loaded with water and a small fan that circulates air through the fabric spacer located behind the pads. These things will cool the vest and its wearer.

Of course, it does come with its challenges to create:

One challenge was to create a fabric spacer that would stay stable under pressure, soft and flexible while making sure it gave no resistance to airflow. Since there was yet to be a small enough fan to be included in the vest, researchers at Empa came up with rechargeable miniaturized fans. Empa researchers needed to develop fans that were not only small but took very little power to work and provided a steady stream of air for ventilation.

A second challenge was that the vest’s original coolpads had to be refilled each hour. However, Empa created a portable filling station that could attach to the vest with a rapid-release fastener. For officers, the original coolpads were inefficient, which was why Empa created a flexible bottle that could be filled with water and increase cooling time for up to three hours.

The vest was tested in 2011 by Zurich City police officers and many were pleased by the results.

Canterbury said this development is huge in terms of how many officers wear bulletproof vests now and how many officers wear them after the release. With improvement in armor, decrease in weight and relief from heat, the rate of officers wearing bulletproof vests will increase.

And, when this happens… the number officers saved in the line of duty will also increase. That means more police officers will be going home to their families in one piece, not in a body bag.

Army’s manufacturing improvements

The U.S. military is turning to the animal world in an effort to develop lighter, tougher and longer lasting body armor.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering graduate student, Benjamin Bruet, is part of a U.S.-funded team that has tested horns, antlers, fish scales and other natural materials to study how animals shield themselves in the wild, National Geographic News reported.

Bruet is optimistic his research will be successful.

“Within 10 years, drastic improvements will have already been implemented that will revolutionize the battle suit,”

he told NGN.

A major factor in developing new bullet resistant materials is weight.

Nick Taylor, manager of an Austin, Texas-based retailer of body armor, told National Geographic News: “For military use, your basic (military body armor) setup is 15 to 20 pounds. The average soldier also wears about 40 pounds of gear on top of that, plus a helmet is 3 pounds.”

And any new product must be thoroughly tested, he said, noting Zylon was introduced in the late 1990s as being lighter, thinner and more flexible. But two police officers were shot and killed wearing Zylon vests before scientists discovered the material may degrade quickly, becoming ineffective after a few years.

Jefferson City Missouri Police

Attorney General Jay Nixon is urging law enforcement agencies around the state to examine their inventories of body armor after tests have found flaws in certain models that make them vulnerable to penetration from firearms.

The U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) performed extensive tests on body armor containing Zylon fibers and concluded that the armor failed to provide adequate protection to stop a bullet, particularly when the armor is exposed to heat or moisture. Last August, the NIJ decertified all vests containing Zylon because the vests appeared to create a risk of death or serious injury.

“Body armor has become a vital tool for law enforcement and has been responsible for saving many lives,” Nixon said. “Unfortunately, body armor containing Zylon can be flawed, and I urge agencies to replace those vests as soon as possible to protect their officers.”

Nixon sent a letter this week to Missouri law enforcement agencies to inform them of the manufacturers affected by the problems with Zylon and about several class action lawsuit settlements. Many of the manufacturers have agreed to replace the vests or compensate vest owners. Law enforcement agencies can find out more these settlements through www.ago.mo.gov.

Those manufacturers are:

- Second Chance Body Armor Inc. and Toyobo Co. Last July, a $29 million settlement was obtained in a class action lawsuit against Toyobo, the Japanese manufacturer of the Zylon fibers. This lawsuit involved vests manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor. Some money remains available for distribution, Nixon said, and vest owners also have the option to receive credits or vouchers or obtain significant discounts in purchasing replacement vests. The deadline to file claims is July 1, 2006.

- Point Blank Body Armor Inc. and Protective Apparel Corporation of America Inc. A settlement reached last December enables vest owners to obtain either non-Zylon ballistic panels at no cost or vouchers. The deadline to file a claim is Aug. 31, 2006.

- Gator Hawk Armor Inc. In January, a settlement was reached with Gator Hawk Armor that enables vest owners to receive free non-Zylon replacement ballistic panels or vouchers. Claims must be submitted by Aug. 5, 2006.

In addition, legal action is pending against First Choice Armor & Equipment. The lawsuit claims that First Choice knew as early as 2001 about problems with Zylon.

“The safety of the men and women of this state is of the utmost concern to me and I urge you to take necessary steps to ensure the well-being of your officers,” Nixon wrote.

Nixon said his Consumer Protection Division is prepared to assist Missouri law enforcement agencies with any questions they have about replacing body armor containing Zylon.

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Pueblo Police Car

Pueblo officials say the city will be reimbursed $100,000 for faulty body armor it bought for police officers.

Assistant city attorney Tom Florczak says Pueblo was part of a class-action lawsuit against Japanese company Toyobo, which manufactured the bulletproof vests made from Zylon. The equipment turned out to be defective.

The city bought 130 vests five years ago and wasn’t notified of the problems until two years later in 2003 when a California officer was shot and killed while wearing one of the vests.

Pueblo police officers now wear vests made by a different body armor company.

Ocala Police Car

Ocala police officers may feel a little safer and happier now that a Japanese company has settled a class-action lawsuit that claimed ineffective body armor was sold to the department.

The $58,000 owed to the Ocala Police Department is part of Toyobo Co.’s $29 million settlement with police departments and officers nationwide.

The 160-sworn officer department in Ocala had as many as 107 of the Second Chance brand bulletproof vests at one time, said Deputy Chief Greg Graham. The force began switching them out, however, after word got out about their possible ineffectiveness.

Graham said the settlement should allow the department to outfit the entire department with suitable vests. “We’re very pleased with the result,” said Graham. “It would have been a huge drain on our budget.”

An estimated 200,000 of the nation’s 700,000 police officers wore Zylon vests last year, according to the Fraternal Order of Police. The black vest weighs about seven pounds and usually is worn over an officer’s T-shirt.

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Second Chance Body Armor Inc. of Michigan and Toyobo Co. of Japan knew they were selling vests whose ability to stop bullets was overrated. In the suit, the government alleges that the two companies remained silent for nearly three years in light of mounting evidence that the Zylon fabric degraded faster when exposed to light, heat and humidity.

“We want something on we feel safe in,” Graham said.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office had 188 of the vests but did not join the lawsuit. They opted to file a claim with the bankruptcy court after the company filed for bankruptcy, said Dan Kuhn, general counsel for the Sheriff’s Office. He said considering the financial difficulties the company was going through, the Sheriff’s Office thought their best route was to go through bankruptcy court.

The payment to the Police Department must be approved by the City Council. Ocala police could run into a problem, however, getting a share of the settlement. The department, as well as the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, donated their vests to a local National Guard unit deployed to Iraq to help protect their vehicles during possible attacks. The settlement requires departments to turn in the bullet proof vests.

Graham said Ocala still has the receipts. “We’re hoping to get around it (the stipulation),” Graham said. Capt. Dennis Strow with the Sheriff’s Office said that because of liability and other issues, the bullet proof vests were never used and are sitting in a warehouse on an Army base in Georgia.

Kuhn said he didn’t expect the Sheriff’s Office gift to the 351st National Guard unit to affect its claim. A Second Chance spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Second Chance said tests showed the material was degrading from sweat and heat before its five-year life expectancy was reached. In separate federal tests, bullets penetrated about half of the Zylon-fortified vests.

Chandler Police Patrol Car

The Chandler Police Department is out of compliance with national standards for body armor and must now replace more than 300 ballistic vests obtained within the past year.

The U.S. Justice Department has suspended its safety certification of vests containing Zylon, a lightweight material shown to degrade over time from environmental stress and become less likely to stop a bullet.

Changes in federal guidelines on Aug. 24 piggybacked a study showing body armor made with Zylon failed to stop a bullet in nearly six of every 10 tests. Most Valley law enforcement agencies have replaced the armor amid mounting safety concerns and a flurry of lawsuits against ballistic vest manufacturers. But Chandler police argue their Zylon vests continue to surpass requirements but say the Justice Department wouldn’t be the wiser: Their model was not included in the research.

“Everybody is concerned about officer safety,” said Sgt. Kenny Thatcher, Chandler firearms training supervisor. ‘The worst thing we can do is jump to conclusions.”

The National Institute of Justice conducted ballistic tests on 103 Zylon vests plucked from officers around the country. Armor of different makes and models was shot 10 times with 9 mm rounds of different velocities.

To meet national standards, a vest would have to withstand a 9 mm full-metal jacket traveling at 1,400 feet per second. Only four of the 103 vests passed the test, according to Justice Department researchers.

In October 2004, more than a year after Zylon came into question, Chandler traded more than 300 predominantly Zylon vests for hybrids. Those vests combined layers of Zylon with layers of material similar to Kevlar, a heavier fiber.

Thatcher visited the American Body Armor factory in Ontario, Calif., and watched as the vests were tested according to national specification and at point-blank range, which is not required. Only six of 22 layers inside the vest were breached.

It was the right decision at the time, Thatcher said. He and two other Chandler employees will meet with American Body Armor officials this week to participate in the manufacturer’s free Zylon vest replacement program.

“They (the manufacturers) could have said let’s sit back and see what happens, cross our fingers and hope nobody gets hurt,” he said. “But they didn’t, not like some others.”
Thatcher was alluding to Second Chance Body Armor, a Michigan-based manufacturer recently embroiled in customer-fraud litigation.

Arizona and seven other states alleged Second Chance violated consumer fraud laws by telling buyers its vests would provide protection for five years. Two of those suits involve the death of a California police officer and serious injury of an officer in Pennsylvania that have been linked to faulty vests.
Second Chance has since warned customers to take “immediate steps to replace” three lines of vests because of a “potential for serious personal injury or death.”

Mesa police officers once relied on Second Chance bullet proof vests, among others. For about a year and a half, Mesa police have been in the process of researching and replacing Zylon body armor. To date, they have replaced more than half of the 700 that needed to be switched.

Mesa police are now required to use vests recommended by a 16-state coalition that tests the vests as worn by clay-model figures heated to body temperature to simulate real-life conditions.
Like Mesa, Tempe police are prohibited from wearing body armor containing Zylon, whereas Peoria and Glendale police have always had a choice. Most of those officers are now switching out their Zylon vests.

Sgt. Russ Scarborough of the Peoria Police Department swapped his vest for a different product in May. Despite long-reported problems about Zylon products, he was never overly concerned.
“The technology keeps getting better,” Scarborough said. “The vests are getting lighter, but they keep offering more protection. We don’t wear these things for comfort. For me, it’s just peace of mind knowing that it’s one more level of protection.”

In fact, you can get shot and die from blunt-force trauma, even though the vest isn’t penetrated, Scarborough said. It will take several months before Chandler police can rid themselves of the Zylon armor. In the meantime, motorcycle Officer Keith Aguiar said he feels safe.

“From what I’ve seen, I’m comfortable wearing the vest,” Aguiar said.

Armor Holdings JacksonVille

In August 24, the NIJ issued its Third Status Report to the Attorney General on Body Armor Safety Initiative Testing and Activities, which included the results of recent tests conducted by the NIJ on used Zylon®-containing body armor. The report indicated that the NIJ is immediately suspending previously awarded certifications of all Zylon®-containing models of body armor. The NIJ also encouraged all law enforcement officers to continue wearing their Zylon® -containing vest until they have the opportunity to obtain a replacement.

“Armor Holdings is singularly committed to the cause of officer safety,” said Scott O’Brien, President of Armor Holdings Products Division, “and we believe, based on our extensive testing and research, that our vests are safe and fit for use by officers in the field. These products have been previously approved and certified by the NIJ, and validated through our own used vest testing program. However, now that the NIJ has announced its intentions to de-certify Zylon®-containing bullet proof vests, we have decided to discontinue the use of Zylon® and assist our customers, consisting of police officers and law enforcement agencies who now find themselves wearing body armor that is not compliant with NIJ standards.”

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Second Chance

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a Florida company’s $45 million bid for the assets of Second Chance Body Armor Inc., the target of lawsuits accusing it of making faulty bullet-resistant police vests.

Judge James Gregg of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Grand Rapids signed an order authorizing the sale to Armor Holdings Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla. Second Chance is headquartered in Central Lake in Antrim County, and has a manufacturing facility in Geneva, Ala. Second Chance is facing more than a dozen lawsuits by states, police agencies and individuals. The U.S. government filed a suit in July.

The complaints accuse the company of selling vests made with Zylon, a protective synthetic fiber, despite evidence it might be defective. Toyobo Co., the Japanese manufacturer of Zylon, also has been hit with numerous lawsuits.

Toyobo announced July 13 it was paying $29 million to settle class-action litigation in seven states that sought damages for allegedly defective bulletproof vests. The case involves some 150,000 bullet-resistant vests sold in Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey and California. Members of the class potentially include individuals, municipalities and police agencies across the country that wore or paid for the vest. The settlement is to be finalized Sept. 23.Shares in Armor Holdings closed $41.05 Thursday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange, up 35 cents.

A recommendation to replace faulty body armor has been taken to heart by the city of Cadillac.

The city is ordering 27 new vests from American Body Armor at a cost of $11,700. The move follows a revelation from Second Chance Body Armor that it does not have confidence in its Tri-Flex products to perform for the life of the original warranty. “We had to scramble and make other arrangements,” said Jeff Hawke, Cadillac Director of Public Safety.

There is also little hope of recovering any money from Second Chance or Toyobo, the manufacturer of the synthetic fiber Zylon that was determined to deteriorate over time. Second Chance has filed for bankruptcy and is pursuing legal action against Toyobo.

According to information on the Second Chance Web site, the individual fiber degrades and can result in sudden, dramatic or catastrophic loss of tensile strength. Second Chance was informed on May 17 of the problem.

The company cannot predict when the fibers will reach the point of failure, none of which have been reported to date. The Tri-Flex vests are the second bullet proof vests from Second Chance the city has had to replace. The company’s Ultima line of armor was also determined to have deterioration potential. In total, the company issued warnings on 98,000 bulletproof vests.

Hawke said the city intends to retain the old vests while it keeps an eye on litigation proceedings. “Officers safety is No. 1, there is no question what needs to happen,” Hawke said. “Although it was a surprise and totally unbudgeted, there was no hesitation at all.”

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