Dear Law Enforcement Leaders,
As you prepare to purchase body armor for members of your department, I would encourage you to take some extra precaution to avoid receiving body armors that have been sitting on shelves for months, are not on the current NIJ compliance list or that the vendor claims are "custom-fit to officers but may not be. This happened to our agency, and I hope it never happens to anyone else.
In February and March 2010, my agency purchased 13 "First Choice ballistic vests from an Internet-based supply store in the state of Washington. The vests were purchased to replace vests that were already expired or getting ready to expire that year. All 13 officers were measured for custom-fit vests. Our agency’s impression was that the vests would be manufactured to the measurements of each individual officer. It took between four and six months to receive the vests, which were issued to the officers as soon as they arrived at our department.
Shortly after receiving the vests, some of the officers began expressing concerns about the "fit of their vests, advising that the vests felt as though they were either too small or too big. The vests were extraordinarily stiff and uncomfortable in comparison to what the officers had tried on during the fitting and in comparison to what they had previously been wearing. We called the supply store several times to ask them to send a representative back to our department to take care of the "fitting issue, but we were given the "runaround each time. The officers were getting frustrated and asking for their old vests back because the old vests still fit the officers appropriately and were more comfortable to wear.
As we investigated further, we discovered that all of the vests we received were actually manufactured several months before the date they had been ordered. This created a situation where the manufacturer’s warranty period was partially expired on receipt of the vests. We also found that a label bearing each officer’s name had been affixed to the inside of the ballistic panels, making it appear as though the officer was actually issued a custom-fitted vest on the same day that it was manufactured. The reality was that the vests that were shipped to our officers had been sitting on a shelf somewhere, and when we ordered our "custom-fit vests, the company supplied vests in standard sizes that were the closest match to each officer’s measurements.
When the issue was brought to the attention of the out-of-state supplier and the vest manufacturer, we learned that First Choice had been bought out by Diamond Back Tactical. Both businesses were pointing fingers at each other, and neither party was willing to take responsibility for the misrepresentations and poorly fitted vests. After several months of negotiating with the supplier and Diamond Back Tactical, my agency was ultimately reimbursed for one-half the value of the vests by the supplier. Diamond Back Tactical has maintained that it was not the manufacturer at the time of the sale and has refused to provide any reimbursement.
In short, I just wanted to pass this information on to all of you, with the hope that as you purchase new vests, you and your agency take steps to ensure that the vests are actually custom-fitted to provide maximum coverage and protection, and that the full manufacturer’s warranty period is in effect when the vests are received and issued to your officers.
Kent W. Barker
Chief of Police
Tualatin (Wash.) Police Department