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Got Your Back?: Does Today's Body Armor Really Offer the Life-saving Protection You Need?

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Dated: February 2004 Pages: 30-32,34,36
Ronnie Garrett
Date Published
February 2004
6 pages
This article examines the performance and reliability of Zylon-based protective body armor vests in the protection of law enforcement officers and recommendations for improvement.
Concerns among the law enforcement community have been expressed regarding the effectiveness of the Zylon vest, manufactured by Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. Private-sector testing discovered degradation in the vests’ ballistic properties. It was reported that Zylon fiber may degrade when exposed to a combination of high heat and humidity. In testing conducted by the National Institute of Justice with the Office of Law Enforcement Standards, findings uncovered a significant reduction in the yarn strength of the vest’s Zylon material. However, when building a vest, developers must accomplish three things: capture the bullet; disperse the energy from the bullet; and minimize trauma to the officer. The organic fiber Zylon possessed all the necessary characteristics. The question then is, if there is strength in the fiber, what does it mean in fabric? The process from yarn to fabric to vest alters and may damage the original fibers. To address degradation issues, the ballistic material was enclosed in a water-resistant fabric to keep moisture out. In addition, a hybrid construction was seen as potentially reducing degradation issues. Lastly, minimize Zylon’s contact with moisture by ultrasonically sealing the vest panels in a waterproof pouch and adding a desiccate, or moisture-absorbing material to the pouch. Whatever the remedy, it is important to know that vests are not bullet-proof, only, bullet-resistant.


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