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Back to Archives | Back to December 2003 Contents 

President's Message

IACP Action on Soft Body Armor Concerns

Chief Joseph M. Polisar, Garden Grove, California

IACP President
Chief Joseph M. Polisar, Garden Grove, California

As I stated in my inaugural address, police officers are my heroes. I believe that it takes a special person to answer the calling of public service. What sets them apart from all others is their willingness to risk and sometimes give their own lives for total strangers. That is why I believe that it is our responsibility as law enforcement executives to do all that we can to ensure that the officers who work for us have the training and equipment necessary to protect themselves while they protect our communities. Clearly, one the most effective pieces of protective equipment our officers have is ballistic body armor. Over the last three decades, body armor has saved the lives of more than 2,700 law enforcement officers, and it is for these reasons that the IACP has long been a tireless advocate for the use of body armor by law enforcement officers.

However, during our conference in Philadelphia it became apparent that questions about the effectiveness of certain types of body armor were causing great concern to the law enforcement community. Specifically, concerns were raised over the possibility that soft body armor manufactured with Zylon could lose its ballistic strength in a relatively short period of time when exposed to a combination of heat and humidity, thereby reducing the ability of the vest to protect the wearer from harm. It was clear that the implications of this situation and its potential impact on the law enforcement community required immediate and forceful action on behalf of the IACP. During meetings of the IACP Board of Officers and the IACP Executive Committee, the association's leadership reviewed the situation and discussed ways in which the IACP could respond to this critical issue.

During these discussions it was determined that the scope of this issue required that efforts be undertaken on a national scale not only to address the specific concerns related to Zylon-based vests but also to review the process by which body armor is tested and certified for law enforcement use. It was also deemed imperative to ensure that all law enforcement agencies and officers have access to unbiased information regarding the effectiveness of their soft body armor.

To this end, the IACP sent Attorney General John Ashcroft a letter outlining the association's concerns about the effectiveness of Zylon-based ballistic body armor. In that letter, the IACP called on the attorney general to conduct a formal examination of the vests in question and initiate a review of the process by which body armor is certified for law enforcement use.

On November 17, I had the opportunity to meet with the attorney general to discuss this and other issues of importance to the policing profession. During that meeting, the attorney general outlined how, in response to the concerns raised by the IACP, he had directed the Department of Justice to systematically address this issue of great and growing concern. (The attorney general also provided a written response to the IACP's letter. This letter is reproduced along with the IACP's original letter on the facing page.) Briefly, the attorney general has outlined a four-pronged approach to addressing this issue.

First, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will immediately initiate a formal examination of the body armor in question (both new and used) and the upgrade kits that have been provided by the manufacturer. NIJ also will review the existing process by which ballistic body armor is certified to determine whether the process needs modifications. NIJ will report to the attorney general within 90 days on status and activities.

Second, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), under the direction of Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels, will make available to the law enforcement community up-to-date information about ballistic body armor, including information from NIJ's examination, research, and testing, manufacturers' statements, and other relevant information. This information will be made available on the Web site of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program (

Third, OJP will convene a summit within 120 days with representatives of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement; law enforcement associations; manufacturers of bullet-resistant fabric and equipment; and standards and testing organizations. Summit participants will review the information available from NIJ's examination, including the suitability of Zylon-based body armor for law enforcement use and the effectiveness of NIJ's certification process. Summit participants also will consider the future of bullet-resistant technology and testing technology.

Finally, OJP will work with state and local law enforcement agencies that have purchased Zylon-based bullet-resistant vests to ensure they are fully aware of all information available about the product and, if necessary, will assist them in their efforts to replace any defective equipment.

It is my belief that the steps outlined by the attorney general will lead to a timely resolution of this issue and help ensure that law enforcement officers can remain confident in the ability of their body armor to protect them. The IACP looks forward to working with Attorney General Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General Daniels, and the Department of Justice on this issue of critical importance to law enforcement agencies and police officers throughout the nation. ♦

Please cite as:

Joseph M. Polisar, "IACP Action on Soft Body Armor Concerns," President's Message, The Police Chief 70 (December 2003): 6.



From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 12, December 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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