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Local officers safe from faulty bulletproof vest

Jill Lufrano

When Sgt. Wade Penegor learned a brand of bulletproof vests made by a national manufacturer could provide false protection, he asked all officers at the Carson City Sheriff’s Department to make sure they weren’t wearing them.

Then he looked at the tag on his own vest.

“It turns out, I was the only one who had it,” Penegor said.

The patrol supervisor was informed two months ago vests produced by Second Chance Body Armor Inc. may be defective. Since then, Penegor ordered a free “fix” to encase the protective panel that may not be able to stop a bullet otherwise.

Penegor is one of few officers in the Northern Nevada area who have paid extra using his own money for the $1,000 body armor. Most officers in the region are given a budget of $400 to $450 by law enforcement departments to buy a vest that will meet basic standards.

New recruits in Douglas County are issued a basic vest but can purchase more protective models. As far as officials know, no one uses the Second Chance vests in Douglas.

“We provide $400 for each vest,” said Chief Deputy Bob Rudnick. “Officers, depending on the type of vest they want in terms of ballistic strength, can add personal funds to go above and beyond.”

A local distributor of body armor in Sparks, Pat Lang of Miller’s Jackets, said a vest bought for $400 is more than adequate for officers. The vests made with Zylon, the material used in the Second Chance vests, are popular for their flexibility and light-weight qualities.

“It’s a top-of-the-line vest,” Lang said. “They are popular, but they’re $900 to $1,100 a vest and a lot of guys aren’t going to fork out that much money for a vest. There’s not that much of a difference in comfort level.”

Officials estimate 200,000 of the nation’s 700,000 police officers wear vests made with Zylon, manufactured by Toyobo Co. and used in Second Chance vests. The Japanese company acknowledges tests show the light-weight, anti-ballistic fiber loses 10 percent to 20 percent of its durability within two years of manufacture. The warranty for Second Chance products is five years.

The U.S. Justice Department last month started investigating the reliability of Zylon, which is also used by seven other body armor manufacturers in the United States and Canada.

Several lawsuits have been filed against Second Chance and Toyobo. One blames Second Chance for the shooting death of a California policeman in July.

As of Tuesday, Penegor said he hadn’t received his equipment from the company to add the extra layer of protection, but because he had planned to replace the equipment within a year, he would wait for the fix.

Second Chance has pulled Ultima, Ultima P+ and Ultimax from its product line and is offering free additional pads for added protection or credits for replacement vests.

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.