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Police Concerned About Bulletproof Vests
Company Telling Customers About Fiber Strength

POSTED: 8:57 a.m. EDT October 2, 2003

BOSTON -- A company that makes bulletproof vests has told its police customers, that includes Massachusetts police officers, that it has seen an "unexpected decrease" in the strength of the fiber in two of its vest models, raising questions about wearers' safety.

The company, Second Chance Body Armor Inc. of Central Lake, Mich., is offering to upgrade the vests, which it says are worn by thousands of police officers and others.

The company said it detected the decrease in the strength of the fiber, Zylon, which is used in its Ultima and Ultimax vests. The vests "wear out faster than expected and ... there is a potential officer safety issue," the company said in a news release posted on its Web site.

The company said officers could get a free upgrade, consisting of inserts of additional pads to their current vest, or they could purchase a new, different vest at a discount.

In a Sept. 15 letter to customers also posted on the Web site, Paul Banducci, president and chief executive of the company, said the Ultima and Ultimax vests had been discontinued

"When introduced, the early degradation of this miracle fiber ... was not predicted by anyone in our industry. ... Little did we know where this new fiber would lead us," he said.

"We want to apologize for any inconvenience incurred by our customers, but we felt this is the right thing to do and we want to carry this program out as quickly as possible," Banducci said.

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, which estimates that at least 2,500 officers in the state wear the vests, has voted to ask the state attorney general to demand free replacements or refunds from the company, the Boston Globe reported in its Thursday edition.

In Massachusetts, dozens of local departments use the vests, as well as the state police. Boston police use a different brand.

"We're saying, 'You have a product that's not safe. What are you going to do about it?" said Plainville, Mass., Police Chief Edward Merrick, president of the chiefs' association. "We have an obligation to our guys. We won't let Second Chance off the hook."

"Granted, we don't have a lot of shootings," Marblehead, Mass., Detective Sean Sweeney told the Globe. "But that one time, I'd like to know the vest I'm wearing would stop the bullet."

Law enforcement officials are raising concerns about the vests across the country, including in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Hawaii, Iowa and Washington.
 
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