State police consider replacing vests |

State police consider replacing vests

State police are considering replacing or upgrading more then 4,000 protective vests after a manufacturer warned that the vests may wear out sooner than expected.

The state’s Department of General Services spent more than $2.4 million for the vests over the past few years.

“Our membership has been advised that there is a situation developing, and we are reviewing it for resolution,” Lt. Col. Henry Oleyniczak, a deputy commissioner of staff with the state police, said Tuesday.

Second Chance Body Armor Inc., of Central Lake, Mich., said this month that its lightweight Ultimax and Ultima protective vests may wear out sooner than expected. The vests are made with Zylon, a synthetic fiber manufactured by Corporation Toyobo, a Japanese company.

Forest Hills police Officer Ed Limbacher was wearing a Second Chance Ultima on June 23 when a .40-caliber bullet pierced the vest during a drug arrest. The vest, which was purchased in January, is being tested by the Allegheny County crime lab and the National Institute of Justice.

Toyobo said tests indicated that Zylon fibers lose 15 percent of their strength when exposed to 104-degree heat and 80 percent humidity over a period of 150 days. Body heat could contribute to the material reaching that temperature.

After seeing those November 2001 test results, Second Chance began its own tests. Those resulted in the company’s offer of free upgrades to the vest’s protective panels or a 72 percent discount for departments replacing the Ultima or Ultimax with one of the company’s Monarch model vests, which use Kevlar instead of Zylon. The Monarch would sell at $309 per vest instead of $1,100.

Oleyniczak said the state isn’t sure which option, if either, it will choose.

“We’re working with them to come up with solution that meets our needs,” Oleyniczak said.

Second Chance President Paul Banducci declined to comment on discussions with the state police.

Lee Markl, president of Markl Supply Co. in Ross, which supplies vests to police throughout Allegheny County, said the state police are by far the largest users of the Ultima vests that his company supplies. He said the state police vests are 1 to 4 years old.

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