IACP Letter to AG Ashcroft on Zylon & Soft Body Armor

November 4, 2003 The Honorable John Ashcroft Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice Washington, DC 20530 Dear Attorney General Ashcroft: On behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), I am writing to ask your assistance on a matter of great importance to the law enforcement community. As you may know, in recent weeks significant concerns have been raised over the effectiveness of ballistic body armor made with Zylon. Specifically, it is possible that these vests lose their ballistic strength in a relatively short period of time when exposed to a combination of heat and humidity, thereby reducing the ability of the vest to protect the wearer from harm. Clearly, given the wide usage of these vests in the law enforcement community, questions about their effectiveness are of great concern to the IACP and the law enforcement profession as a whole. Unfortunately, while there is a shared concern over this issue, there is no consensus on how we should proceed. The IACP has been informed that many agencies have taken Zylon-based vests out of service, while others have begun to retrofit them with materials provided by a manufacturer. Other agencies remain unaware of the issue. In addition, many police departments, state police associations and even state and local governments are considering legal action against the manufacturers of Zylon-based vests. Perhaps, most troubling of all, the concerns being raised about Zylon-based vests are beginning to cause law enforcement executives and officers alike to question the effectiveness and reliability of non-Zylon-based body armor. The situation is further complicated by the fact the various vest manufacturers and component material producers are providing contradicting and confusing information to law enforcement agencies throughout the nation as they attempt to shift blame and avoid potential liability. In addition, a significant number of these vests were purchased using federal funds provided to state and local law enforcement agencies through various assistance programs that are administered by the Department of Justice. I am sure that the Department shares my belief that manufacturers must be held accountable for the representations and warrantees that were made at the time their products were approved for purchase with federal assistance funds. It is for these reasons that I believe it is critically important that the Department of Justice take the lead in addressing the multitude of questions that surround this important issue. The scope of this problem is too vast and the potential impact on our nation’s law enforcement officers too great for individual police agencies to successfully address it alone. This issue requires the attention of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice. The IACP is aware and appreciates the fine work that the National Institute of Justice, through its National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center program has already done on this issue. However, because of the importance of this issue, and its potential impact on the safety of law enforcement officers and the effectiveness of our nation’s law enforcement agencies, the IACP believes that more can, and must, be done. For example, it may be necessary for the Department of Justice to conduct a formal examination of the vests in question (both new and used). The upgrade kits being provided by the manufacturer should also be included in the study. The study should conclude with the release of a definitive statement on their suitability for law enforcement use. In addition, I believe that it would be appropriate to review the existing process by which ballistic body armor is certified and determine if modifications are necessary to ensure that a similar situation does not arise again in the future. The IACP offers our assistance to the Department of Justice in resolving this urgent safety issue. We stand ready to provide support in finding a solution ensuring the ultimate goal of protecting our law enforcement community is met. Additionally, we are well positioned to assist in communicating vital information and potential solutions to state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please let me know if you have any questions. Sincerely, Joseph M. Polisar President