Bulletproof vests replaced by Valley police officers because of a threat of deterioration in the Arizona heat may have offered even less protection than originally thought.
Testing of the vests ordered last year by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and conducted by the National Institute for Justice showed that about 50 percent of the vests failed to stop a bullet, according to a recently released government report.
The tests were performed under the Body Armor Safety Initiative, which was created to examine the reliability of body armor used by law enforcement now and in the future.
"I truly believe (the initiative) already has saved officers’ lives," said Bryan Soller, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police and a Mesa police officer. "These vests have proven, even in preliminary tests, to be faulty."
Most, if not all, police officers in the East Valley have stopped using body armor made with Zylon, a bullet-resistant material that, although popular because of its comfort, may deteriorate by 20 percent within two years.
Ashcroft ordered the tests in November after several local and national police associations questioned their effectiveness in light of an officer’s death in Pittsburgh.
Testers shot voluntarily surrendered vests, firing six shots of two different bullet calibers.
Results showed that 10 out of 20 vests were penetrated by at least one round.
In January, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard filed suit against Second Chance, maker of the Ultima and Ultimax brand of vests used by many Arizona police officers.
The ongoing lawsuit came after the company refused to provide full refunds or replacements for the vests.