SIKESTON - Local law enforcement agencies are participating in the recall of body armors made with Zylon.
While all bullet-resistant materials wear out after about five years, Zylon, a Japanese-made synthetic material, was found to be degrading faster than expected from heat, light and moisture exposure. This means bullets could potentially penetrate the armor while those wearing them believe they are protected.
According to American Body Armor's Web site, www.americanbodyarmor.com, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report which de-certified all bullet-resistant vest models containing any type or amount of Zylon-based ballistic material on Aug. 24.
As American Body Armor's quality assurance policy requires the National Institute of Justice certification for any vest models it offers, the company initiated a voluntary program that allows customers with their Zylon-based bullet-resistant vest models to convert to non-Zylon models.
"Ours are made by American Body Armor - there's been a recall so I have about 38 vests that will be recalled and replaced free of charge," said Capt. Joe Sebourn who is in charge of equipment for the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "We're going to swap out vests. We'll get a vest that's comparable that does not have Zylon."
The recalled vests at DPS are only about a year old, according to Sebourn, and were certified and approved for use by the U.S. Department of Justice when they were purchased in 2004.
DPS purchases its body armor with a DOJ grant which covers half of the cost but because Zylon vests have lost their NIJ certification, the Department of Justice will no longer fund Zylon vest purchases, Sebourn said.
"Second Chance has had a lot of problems with it but as far as I know, American Body armor hasn't had any problems," Sebourn said of Zylon vests.
This is the second recall in recent years, however, according to Sebourn: "They had a deal last year where they replaced them and they gave us $100 extra so we made out pretty good," he said.
For recalls like this, DPS usually receives vouchers which can be used with the department's regular vendor in St. Louis.
"When the new vests come in we send the vests back and they send us a voucher," Sebourn said. "I've got a bunch of paperwork on it."
He predicted by the end of the year DPS will begin replacing the Zylon vests and having officers fitted for new ones.
Tom Beardslee, chief deputy for the Scott County Sheriff's Department, said they, too, were notified by American Body Armor about problems with Zylon.
"We changed all ours out," he said. "They sent out a recall and we swapped out the ones we had."
Beardslee said additional vests were also purchased as only about half of the department's deputies were equipped with the vests until this year.
"We just bought a bunch of news ones first of this year," he said. "We heard about the problems with the Zylon and we specified not to have those. Ours use Kevlar."
Now, "everybody on the street has one, all the tactical team has one, and there are two for the jail staff," Beardslee said.
Mississippi County Sheriff Keith Moore said his department is currently conducting an inventory on their body armor. While some were purchased from Second Chance, Moore said his department doesn't have any Zylon vests that he knows of.
"Most of our road deputies we try to equip with a raid vest with the panels in it," he said.
Moore noted that all body armor, Zylon or not, needs to be replaced after five years and he is looking into upgrading his department's vests as soon as he can. "They say the sweat, moisture and stuff can deteriorate them," he said.
Alvin Miller, chief deputy for the New Madrid County Sheriff's Department, said he is checking to see if they have any Zylon vests in use.
"I know we don't use the Second Chance body armor," he said, "but it's something I'll need to check on."