|October 14, 2000, 08:05 AM||#1|
Join Date: March 1, 1999
Nice feel good article.
Safe In-vestments http://www.citypaper.net/articles/10...at.vests.shtml
October 5–12, 2000
Vested interest: Inspector Jeremiah Daley with the Kevlar body armor that has saved at least seven police officers' lives since 1996.
Body armor gets the credit for a record lapse in police deaths.
by Noel Weyrich
Last week's funeral for patrolman Jose M. Ortiz was the first to commemorate the on-duty death of a Philadelphia police officer since December 1997. Considering that four officers were killed in the line of duty in 1996 alone, this 33-month hiatus in fatalities is a remarkable winning streak of sorts for the department, one that hasn't been equaled in almost 60 years.
Police officials say that the criminals haven't stopped shooting at them, nor have the cops been simply keeping out of danger's way. Instead, they give almost all the credit to lightweight Kevlar, the miracle fiber inside police body armor, and to a department policy that requires every on-street officer to wear one of these so-called bulletproof vests.
"It's better living through chemistry," jokes Inspector Jeremiah Daley, a 21-year veteran of the force who heads the narcotics division. Daley says that since the latest model of flexible lightweight vests were introduced in the early 1990s, numerous police officers have walked away from shootings that would have otherwise killed them. "Obviously you can't take undue risks," he cautions. "There's still more than 50 percent of your body that's unprotected, including your pumpkin. But at least it offers some measure of protection in critical areas of the body that you didn't have before."
Since 1900, the Philadelphia Police have never gone longer than three years without losing at least one colleague in the line of duty. The Ortiz tragedy brought the latest break in officer deaths to an end at two years and 9 months. The last comparable run of luck for the department had been a 34-month stretch that ended in 1941 with the death of one Officer Edward C. Bradley.
But another record-breaking department streak is still ongoing. Since January 1996, not a single on-duty officer has been shot to death (other deaths have come from car crashes, accidents and off-duty shootings). In that same period of time, though, at least seven officers have been saved from life-threatening gunshots by their custom-fitted vests.
The latest such incident took place in March, when 26-year-old officer Jeffrey Seaman was shot in the chest after chasing a suspect into a dark basement in West Kensington. Following the shooting, police reported that Seaman received only brief medical treatment for a bruised abdomen.
Jeremiah Daley, one of the department's resident experts on Kevlar vests and on the training necessary for their proper use, says that although body armor had been around for decades, it became practical for everyday use only in recent years. "The Kevlar that's out there today is five or 10 times lighter and stronger than what they used to make," he says. "It's still not a box of chocolates to put one of these vests on when you're going out for an eight-hour tour in the middle of August, but you can do it."
Body armor is now more or less standard equipment in most big-city police departments, and DuPont, the maker of Kevlar, counts more than 2,000 lucky cops as honorary members of its Kevlar Survivors' Club. Jeffrey Seaman will be officially inducted into the club at a national police chief's convention next month in San Diego.
Although the vests were first mandated by the police brass in the late 1980s, the policy was not strictly enforced until after the death of Officer Lauretha Vaird in January of 1996. Vaird, the last Philadelphia police officer to be shot to death while on duty, was hit in the abdomen during a botched bank holdup in Manayunk. The Kevlar vest that would almost certainly have saved her life was hanging on her dining room chair that afternoon. Police speculated that either she had been in a rush to get to work that day or she had left it home because it fitted poorly. Since then, say department officials, supervisors have been trained to check each day for body armor among their troops, and cops are encouraged to get re-fitted if the vests become uncomfortable.
"One problem is that cops, being cops, change shape," Daley laughs. "When your cuisine changes to Pat's Steaks and Dunkin' Donuts at three in the morning, you tend to throw on a couple of pounds here and there, so sometimes vests really need to be remeasured."
The other problem the department has overcome is the long-held fear among plainclothes and undercover officers that the added bulk of the vests makes them look conspicuous. On Nov. 16, 1993, plainclothes officer Stephen Dmytryk was shot to death on Spring Garden Street while trying to foil a holdup. He had left his vest at home that day for this very reason.
"In one sense, Steve Dmytryk's death triggered a lot of good," says Daley. "We had to change that mindset, that unless you're in a deep-cover capacity where someone might pat you down, you've got to wear the vest."
Last year, a plainclothes officer under Daley's command was shot in the chest at close range by a drug suspect who was using an exceptionally powerful handgun. The officer was treated for bruises and abrasions at an emergency room and released.
"He took a .357 Magnum round right over the heart," says Daley. "Without that vest, he'd be dead, and five years ago, there's a good chance he wouldn't have had the vest on. Having worked on the whole project, getting the vests, getting the training, it was very gratifying to me.