By Anna Knight, Club Administrator, and Ron McBride, Chief of Police (Retired) and Law Enforcement Consultant
he IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club®pays tribute to those deserving officers who have avoided serious or potentially fatal injuries through the use of any kind of body armor. This column is dedicated to sharing their experiences, in hopes of persuading others to wear their armor. If body armor has helped you or a member of your department survive such an accident or assault, please contact Anna Knight, Club Administrator, IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club®, 5401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Richmond, VA 23234; 804-383-3853; 800-441-2746; fax: 804-383-2477; e-mail: Anna.G.Knight-1@USA.dupont.com .
The Survivors’ Club application is also available on the IACP’s Web site, www.theiacp.org , under Awards/Survivors’ Club.
Officer Credits Body Armor for Lightness of Injuries
Constable James R. Walker of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that he was working a traffic detail operating a marked police car. He was traveling eastbound on Highway 16 from Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, to Terrace, B.C., and was the first of four police cars on the highway patrol returning to Terrace after conducting road checks in Prince Rupert. The police vehicles were spread out over a distance of approximately 37 miles (60 kilometers). The weather was clear and the roadway dry, with unrestricted visibility and a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Walker was traveling at an estimated speed of 62 miles (100 kilometers) per hour 35 miles west of Terrace when a moose crossed the road immediately in front of him. His police car collided with the moose, later determined to be two years old and to weigh 500 pounds, initially at the front right of the police car. The moose crossed diagonally to the driver’s side, causing the leading edge of the roof to buckle inward. The seat belt performed as designed, but the driver-side airbag did not deploy.
The leading edge of the roof hit Walker in the head. The police car sustained severe damage and came to a stop. Walker suffered a laceration to the forehead that required seven stitches but sustained no injuries to his neck, shoulders, or chest. It is his determination that the kinetic energy transferred to the seatbelt and shoulder harness assembly was dissipated by the soft body armor he was wearing. He has absolutely no doubt that his body armor was a significant factor in preventing him from suffering more serious physical injury.
Constable Walker was treated at an area hospital and released. He returned to his police duties.
Armor Enables Constable to Survive Gunshot Wound to Torso
A detail of officers, including Constable Donald E. Murray, was tasked with executing a drug search warrant at a residence. The detail was composed of both uniformed and plainclothes officers, all of whom were trained in tactical entry. All officers were wearing body armor, even though criminal intelligence did not indicate that the officers would encounter armed resistance. The officers made entry and began clearing the main floor. Unknown to the officers, a 21-year-old male occupant of the residence with no adult criminal history concealed himself in a mainfloor washroom. He had in his possession a bag containing a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun loaded with lead slugs.
The stack of officers proceeded through the kitchen area into the front of the house. Murray stopped just before reaching the washroom door, which was closed. Murray waited at this spot until he was signaled by Constable Penner, next in the stack, to open the washroom door. Murray encountered resistance at the bottom of the door. It was being stopped from opening. Murray gave the door a further shove with his shoulder. At that moment the suspect fired one blast from his shotgun directly at Murray’s torso from an estimated distance of one foot. Murray withdrew under his own power to an adjacent bedroom. The slug struck the lower left portion of Murray’s soft body armor.
The officers regrouped and focused on the washroom. The suspect fired two more slugs from the shotgun into the bathroom floor. The officers returned fire. The barricaded suspect was struck in the left hand and right upper arm. The suspect exited the washroom and shot Penner in the right forearm. Penner stayed in the fight and physically engaged the shooter. The suspect was taken to the ground and arrested. A third constable suffered a gunshot wound to the leg that might have resulted from friendly fire.
The injured officers were transported away from the scene for emergency medical care. Constable Murray suffered a penetrating gunshot wound to the torso. Medical staff determined that Murray’s body armor was instrumental in his survival, as the slug was diverted downward and away from vital organs. He underwent surgery and remained in the hospital for five weeks. His recovery continues. Penner suffered extensive damage to his right arm and continues in rehabilitation. The constable that suffered the gunshot wound to the leg has recovered.
The shooter was charged with attempted murder of the police officers and a variety of weapons charges in addition to the drug crimes. Other members of his family were subsequently charged for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. The criminal cases remain before the courts.
Robbers’ Bullet Stopped by Body Armor
Officer Stephen T. Davis is a relatively new member of the Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.) and is assigned to the Third District. Davis made a stop at a friend’s home on his way into work. When he departed his acquaintance’s residence and walked toward his vehicle, two subjects brandishing handguns approached him, and one of them asked, “You know what time it is?” As Davis was dressed in his duty uniform, one suspect observed his police badge and said, “Damn, he’s the police! Get him!” He then fired one round from a 9mm pistol. The bullet struck Davis in the lower right side; fortunately, he was dressed for duty and survival, as he was wearing his issued body armor.
The suspects fled the scene in an older model vehicle. On-duty officers responded and transported Officer Davis to a trauma center for evaluation. Attending physicians determined that the bullet was stopped by Davis’s body armor. He did, however, suffer a backface contusion. Officer Davis was treated and released and has since returned to duty. The suspects remain at large. The Metropolitan Police Department posted a reward of up to $10,000 for anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the attempted robbery and shooting of Officer Davis. ■
Although manufacturers of bullet-resistant vests engineer their products to meet ballistic standards, history shows that such garments also provide limited protection against other threats, such as club and knife assaults (will not protect against sharp, pointed knives or ice picks), automobile accidents, motorcycle spills, falls, fires, explosions, etc. Nothing offers total protection, but personal body armor will improve the odds of surviving many of the life-threatening incidents constantly facing law officers.