Area police departments dealing with possible defective bulletproof vests

Friday, October 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Green Country police officers may be wearing a piece of defective equipment. Hundreds of officers are wearing bulletproof vests that could fail.

One of the companies that makes the vests recently notified area police departments that the vests may break down after just one year, rather than the five years they're supposed to last. News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright investigates.

Bulletproof vests have become commonplace with police officers and just like everything else, the technology keeps improving. The old Kevlar vests are giving way to the next generation of material called Zylon, it's lighter weight and more flexible, making the vests much more comfortable to wear.

Broken Arrow Police Captain Brandon Berryhill: "Altogether we wear 25 pounds of gear with our vests and belts and everything so anytime we can make something lighter, it's a good thing." However, there could be a downside to the vests made of Zylon.

A major manufacturer called Second Chance recently sent letters warning police departments that the vests may start deteriorating after only a year, when they were designed to last for five. "Some of the problems are heat, perspiration and sunlight and of course, we have all of that in Oklahoma."

Second Chance is offering a free upgrade to the vests or to replace them at a discounted cost. Some police departments don't like either option and are looking for others. "Right now, we've made the decision to replace the 43 vests in the field with something else and the return these to the manufacturer." It could hit many budget strapped departments hard to replace vests unexpectedly, but they say the safety of their officers must come first.

While the testing is being done on the new material, some departments plan to go back to the old Kevlar. It's heavier and less comfortable but at least they can trust it.

80% of the Tulsa Police Department's bulletproof vests are made with the Zylon material from Second Chance. That's 616 of the department's 767 officers. Tulsa hasn't made a decision about what to do yet, but is researching its options.