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Every day, the men and women of America’s police forces put their lives on the line. Many move into dangerous communities in order to make them safer, suffer from budget cuts and work longer hours with fewer benefits. And yet when you or I are in harm, they are the first to respond. Despite their hardships, all they ask in return is for basic protection against avoidable harms. The least we can offer police in the line of fire is a bulletproof vest that works. Society is failing in this obligation. The sale of bulletproof vests is basically unregulated. Anyone can start a bulletproof vest company and market to police officers. No experience in law enforcement? Not a setback. No reliable testing scheme to see if your vests actually work? No problem. In fact, most state governments have stricter standards for opening a hair salon than a bulletproof vest company. That’s right-our government places a higher priority on protecting us from bad haircuts than police officers from faulty bulletproof vests. It is true that most state and local police departments require vests to be certified by the National Institute of Justice. It seems that, at the very least, NIJ certification would mean that a vest is capable of doing what it claims to do: protect police officers from gunfire. Unfortunately, it does not. Second Chance, a Michigan vest company, sold more than 150,000 defective vests that were NIJ certified. Officers who thought they were protected died or were wounded in vests that should never have been on the market. More than $188 million was wasted by state and local law enforcement, who eventually scrapped the vests as worthless. NIJ certification only means that the so-called “horse blanket” (which comprises a vest’s lining) can stop a few bullets at the time the horse blanket is produced. No actual vests are tested. And the fiber is not tested over time to see if it deteriorates. Contrast this with seat-belt testing. We’ve all seen the pictures of the crash test dummies wearing belts, with cars slamming into walls. Those tests mirror reality. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests seat belts for durability over time. How much peace of mind would drivers have if this testing were replaced with say, a computer analysis of the fibers used to construct a safety belt, with no belts ever being tested and durability not considered? Very little-which is the peace of mind police officers have today when putting on their vest, knowing they are walking into a possible firing line. This is inexcusable, and changes must be made. Test the actual vests First, actual vests must be tested. Rather than actual vests, initial NIJ certification is done on a horse blanket manufactured from the material in a vest. Using this blanket provides a larger surface area and more material to better absorb the energy of a bullet. Thus, the blanket used to test vests has a longer life than the vest worn by a police officer. A random sample of vests should be used for testing. Using the horse blanket approach v. the random selection of prototype vests lets manufactures select the best materials for certification testing. It should be no surprise that some brand-new NIJ certified vests fail NIJ certification testing when tested on their own. Clearly the NIJ testing regime is inadequate and lawmakers must respond. Second, vests must be tested for their resistance to deterioration. Testing a brand-new vest only reveals how that vest will perform on its first day. But vests (even those never fired upon) are subject to sweat, heat, wear and tear that accelerates the natural aging process of the vests’ fibers. Despite ample evidence of this, the NIJ has not adopted standards for used-vest testing. While most vests are sold with a five-year warranty that defines their useful life, there is evidence that extraneous factors (which are not tested) can significantly shorten a vest’s life. Second Chance vests began to fail within a year of sale. Vests must be subjected to durability and deterioration testing. A bulletproof vest is the last defense police officers have against injury or death. We all hear the stories of an officer who is saved by a successful vest. Unfortunately, there are also many instances where an officer is harmed because his or her vest failed to perform as sold. The cause of this is a regulation system that puts the interests of corporations above the safety of our police. The brave men and women who protect our lives deserve protection. It’s about time we gave it to them. Allan Kanner is an adjunct professor at Tulane University Law School, attorney and consumer advocate who is currently representing many police departments across the nation. He resides in New Orleans and can be reached at [email protected].

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