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Surplus bulletproof vests, police gear headed for Iraq

William Ferchland

Sixty bulletproof vests from the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department are headed to Iraq to help outfit impoverished police units.

The vests are surplus property because they have passed their expiration date.

“This seemed like a win-win situation for us to get rid of the vests,” said Sheriff Jeff Neves.

Vests older than five years are warehoused before being destroyed. They can’t be placed on the open market because authorities fear they might end up in the wrong hands. Usually they’re sent to a metal yard, where they are chopped and burned.

Neves heard about the deal from the vests’ vendor when he asked how he should dispose of the surplus. But that costs money. He said sending the vests to Iraq is cost free, and he even worked a deal on the shipping.

Before the vests travel to Iraq, they will join other police gear in Fresno, Calif.

Utility belts, batons, flashlights, flashlight batteries, handcuffs, riot helmets, two-way radios and 9 m ammunition for target practice are being gathered by Fresno homicide Detective Michael Harris.

Harris, who delivered the first batch of goods in late February to a police force in Baquba, about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, had the idea about four months ago.

“The Iraqi police don’t have anything, and they’re working side by side with our guys to get this mess under control,” he said.

At first, the logistics to deliver the supplies were a tough hurdle. By using his contacts in the military and traveling with the first shipment through Prague in the Czech Republic, Harris was able to construct a supply line.

He has heard that three people’s lives were saved by wearing the vests.

Even though most of the vests from El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department have been in storage for several years and are past their expiration date, Neves said they work just fine.

The only problem is they are custom-suited for deputies, but Neves agreed it would be like trying on a suit, if Iraqis had many choices.

To help the Iraqi police with supplies, contact Harris at (559) 621-2451.

E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.