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Posted: 8/24/2005 7:39:47 PM EDT

The New York Times
August 25, 2005

A Common Police Vest Fails the Bulletproof Test


WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 - A type of lightweight police vest used by tens of
thousands of officers failed to stop a bullet in nearly 6 of every 10
tests, according to a Justice Department study released on Wednesday,
and the study resulted in immediate changes in federal safety guidelines.

Ballistic tests on 103 vests containing a fiber known as Zylon produced
acceptable safety results for just four vests, department researchers said.

"This confirms that these vests simply don't do what they claim to do,
which is to stop bullets," said Ed Balzarini Jr., a lawyer from the
Pittsburgh metropolitan region who represents an officer in Forest
Hills, Pa., Ed Limbacher, who was seriously wounded in 2003 in drug raid
when a bullet pierced his vest and lodged in his abdomen.

The shooting death of another officer, in Oceanside, Calif., was linked
to a similar type vest.

Police armor using Zylon, patented by a Japanese company, became popular
about a decade ago as a lighter alternative to hotter, bulkier vests.
The material is found in more than 240,000 vests bought by police
departments in the United States in recent years, officials said.

Many departments have stopped using Zylon vests in the last two years in
light of increased safety concerns and a flurry of lawsuits against

But law enforcement officials said tens of thousands of officers
continued to rely on them.

As a result of its findings, the Justice Department said it would commit
$33.6 million to help police departments replace Zylon vests. It also
imposed new safety standards for Zylon vests and said it would no longer
allow federal reimbursement for departments that bought them.

In New York City, Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman
for the Police Department, said the department did not use Zylon vests.

"All bullet-resistant vests issued and inspected annually by the New
York City Police Department are made of Kevlar," Commissioner Browne
said, referring to another material that federal officials said had
shown no sign of failures. "None are made of Zylon. We have no known
failures. In fact, the current models in use were instrumental in
stopping multiple gunshots from penetrating officers' vests in several
close-quarters gunfights this summer."

The Justice Department, which began studying Zylon vests in 2003, found
in earlier tests that the material deteriorated quickly, particularly
when exposed to light, heat and moisture. The findings released on
Wednesday were the first definitive tally of the failure rate, law
enforcement officials said.

"We expected the Justice Department to find some level of deficiency in
these vests, but this level is startling," said Jim Pasco, executive
director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the law enforcement
association that first alerted federal officials to potential dangers in
Zylon vests.

"We're obviously concerned by these results," Mr. Pasco said in an
interview, "but, thank God, we're finding this out now rather than
later, because this is a critical issue for officer safety, and the
adverse effects could be horrible otherwise."

The tests by the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the Justice
Department, used 9-millimeter, .357 Magnum and other ammunition on 103
Zylon vests from law enforcement agencies around the country. In 60
cases, or 58 percent, at least one bullet from a six-shot series
penetrated the vest. Even in those cases where the bullet did not pierce
the armor, 91 percent of the vests sustained damage considered excessive
enough to cause blunt-trauma injuries to the officers wearing them, the
researchers said.

"We think this is an unacceptable risk of serious bodily injury to
officers," Sarah V. Hart, director of the justice institute, said in an
interview, "and these vests should be replaced."

The Justice Department emphasized in its report that until police
departments and officers could replace their vests, even armor with
Zylon was "better than no armor."

A spokesman for Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Fla., widely considered
the largest manufacturer of police vests in the United States, said
Wednesday that the company continued to believe that Zylon vests were safe.

The spokesman, Michael Fox, said his company, which makes several types
of vests with Zylon, was studying the new findings and welcomed the new

"We're confident in the performance of our products," Mr. Fox said.
"These products have been in the field for a long time. They have saved
dozens and dozens of lives, and they're working."

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting from New York for this article.

Copyright 2005
Link Posted: 8/24/2005 9:47:11 PM EDT
"The Justice Department emphasized in its report that until police
departments and officers could replace their vests, even armor with
Zylon was "better than no armor."


Link Posted: 8/24/2005 11:56:50 PM EDT
Zylon is one of the strongest fibers that humans have ever produced, however, it is FAR too susceptible to decomposition from water and heat. It doesn't take very much of either to do it. That's what makes it a bad armor, on paper it looks fine. Too bad when it is in your car or on your body temperatures at the vest can be much higher than what the vest is acutally designed for.

Aramid fibers like Kevlar and Araflex are much more like spider silk and do not have that problem if the vest is adequately protected. Water starts to boil before temperature and humidity have a significant effect on aramid fibers.

Continuing to make vests with zylon in them is just a bad idea, still can't believe companies are doing it.
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 8:56:27 AM EDT
Businesses are run to make money and these companies have substantial investments with this material. Unfortunately, they obviously did not "real world" test this material enough prior to making such a large commitment. Now, if they were to attempt to replace all of the vests sold with this material at no cost, they would go bancrupt. While I think "you sleep in the bed you make", I don't think that having most of the major manufacturers of ballistic vests going bancrupt would be such a good thing for us.

I never liked the "lighter and thinner" trend in armor because I like the blunt trauma protection of a thicker vest. Besides, mass stops mass. Just because a "lighter and thinner" material may stop a penetration, it doesn't mean that it won't beat the hell out of you due to energy transfer. A cracked rib can still puncture a lung.

Our new Second Chance vests recently issued by our dept is of the aramid fiber type. Phew.
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 8:58:12 AM EDT
Didn't second chance just recall a shitload of 3 different model vests because of this material?
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 12:16:01 PM EDT
Did Second Chance file for bankruptcy? I thought I read something about it. somewhere.
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 12:38:03 PM EDT
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 2:23:08 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Wave:
Odd that this article should come out today...wasn't the word out on defective zylon vests months ago?

I think it's more like a year already.
Link Posted: 8/25/2005 2:38:11 PM EDT

No the word was out 3 years ago, when I was researching what to buy for myself. Found it along with a boatload of test data on one of the professional forums. Made copies, handed it to my chief and another chief (friend) who both reacted "well, we bought them, we're not about to buy new ones"!!

Stay safe out there . . . your leadership doesn't give a damn what happens to you (unless there is a camera/photo op at a hospital/funeral)!
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