Police vests: Confusion over their safety

By Justin Boron and Ed Brock

Clayton County Police don't plan to test any of its body armor, but Sheriff Victor Hill has raised questions about the reliability of some of the vests being used in his office.

As far as Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner knows none of their vests are defective, though 10 members of the Crime Scene Investigation Unit brought vests with them when they moved over from the Sheriff's Office last year.

“If they are defective we plan to replace them,” Turner said.

However, he said they currently have conflicting information on the reliability of the vests and plan to follow up with the manufacturers.

The Clayton County Police Department primarily uses PACA and First Choice body armor, Turner said. He did not know the type of material used in the vests and the companies' Web site did not specify the material either. Neither PACA nor First Choice returned phone calls.

Hill said he has discovered through research that 138 vests purchased for $62,445 in September last year could be defective.

Officials involved with the purchase of those vests say they stand by them.

The vests' manufacturer, Second Chance Body Army, is now effectively defunct. But Armor Holdings purchased much of the company's assets and name, said Michael Fox, the spokesman for Armor Holdings.

He said the vests sold to the Sheriff's Office absolutely did not contain Zylon, a material in body armor that recently was proven to be defective by the U.S. Justice Department.

Then Chief Deputy Shelby Foles oversaw that purchase and also said he was certain that they did not buy vests with that material.

At the time, Foles said Zylon was supposed to be “latest and greatest” material, but “it turned out not to be the case.” Instead going for the expensive Zylon, he said the office purchased middle grade vests that would not have contained the material.

Foles added that two sheriff employees may have had Zylon vests. One employee sought the Zylon vest on his own, and another female employee had trouble with the fitting of a vest and may have received one with Zylon instead. But he couldn't be certain.

“My recollection is if there were any Zylon vests, it would be limited to those two,” he said.

Hill also has questioned whether a grant used by county police to buy new vests was divided fairly between the police department and Sheriff's Office.

Clayton County bought 48 First Choice bullet proof vests in June as part of the normal rotation of vests as part of a normal rotation.

Turner said the Justice Department provides a $38,000 grant that reimburses the police for half the cost of each vest. However, they have not yet applied for any reimbursement from the current grant.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said Tuesday Hill would have had to request funds for the vests in his annual budget.