Channel 7: ABC Network News

October 1, 2002

 

To Save and Protect, Some Bullet-Resistant Vests May Be Defective

Bullet-proof vest    
By Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz

and David Scott

Most police officers and federal agents across the country wear bullet-resistant vests made by one company in Florida. They say they trust these vests to protect their very lives. Now some of their vests are being called into question.

Point Blank, the Oakland Park, Fla.-based manufacturer, turns out more than 1,000 vests a week and company officials say the vests have saved the lives of hundreds of police officers. The company claims its vests have never failed when worn in the line of duty.

"This company is about saving lives," said Ronda Graves, the Chief Operations Manager at Point Blank. "It has been for 30 years."

But a New York State Labor Department investigation concluded last week that at least 900 of the Point Blank vests worn by New York city police officers were defective, based on tests done by the NYPD.

Allegedly Defective Vests Taken Out of Commission

And now a total of some 6,300 vests from similar lots, more than one-fourth of all Point Blank vests worn by NYPD officers, are being taken out of service and returned to Point Blank, according to a company spokesman.

"That company should be terrified that that happened," said Pat Lynch, the president of the New York Police Benevolent Association. "That is the sole reason you wear that piece of equipment — bullet resistance, to stop that vest. And it didn't do it."

But according to the report of a New York State Labor investigation obtained by ABCNEWS, based on tests by the NYPD, at least 900 of the Point Blank vests worn by NYPD city police were defective, and "one vest tested did have full penetration from a single gunshot."

A separate test of a vest done by a law firm suing Point Blank for alleged mismanagement showed that most bullets were stopped but fragments of some .357-caliber hollow point bullet rounds got through.

Police union officials said the vest should have prevented that. "[If] that vest doesn't work, you're gonna be carried by six of your fellow police officers," said Lynch. "And that's just wrong."

Today, the law firm of Milberg Weiss, which had carried out their own videotaped test of the Point Blank vests, filed a lawsuit on behalf of shareholders for alleged mismanagement, including charges that the company that makes the vests had cut corners in production. A company spokesman said they had not yet seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

"This is another form of corporate irresponsibility, of where corporate officers knowingly ship defective product in order to boost the revenue of the company to benefit themselves financially," said attorney Bill Lerach, a partner at Milberg Weiss.

‘No One’s Vest Is Bulletproof’

In 1996, Point Blank chairman and principal shareholder David Brooks, a former stockbroker, was prevented from listing his company on the NASDAQ exchange because of what was termed his "history of serious security law violations."

Brooks would not talk with ABCNEWS but assigned Graves to defend the company's vests.

"I do not sell bulletproof vests," Graves said. "We sell ballistic resistant or stab resistant armor."

"No one's vest is bulletproof," she said.

Graves says the company would never cut corners in the production of the vests and asserts and that the NYPD and other tests were not done properly and used bullets the current NYPD vests were not designed to stop.

"The vests did not fail," Graves said.

But if the bullets went through the vests, do they not call that a failure?

"The vests were not defective," she said, "the testing was defective."

"The testing was done properly," said Lynch. "The testing was put on a mannequin and fired at. What kind of testing do you need to do? If it's supposed to stop a certain round, a certain kind of bullet, it should be stopping that round and it didn't."

Point Blank and the NYPD told ABCNEWS that they are in discussions about replacing the allegedly defective vests with new vests from the company.