Norwood police: We need new bulletproof vests

Warranty expires soon, may lead to staff changes
Posted at 5:59 PM, Jul 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-13 14:13:14-04

NORWOOD, Ohio -- Norwood police leaders went before the Norwood City Council Tuesday evening asking for money to replace more than a dozen body armor vests.

City officials told the Norwood Police Department Chief they are taking the matter seriously, but they just don't have the money with $2 million in unpaid bills. 

Norwood Officer and FOP President Craig Spille said 17 of their vests will be out of warranty in August, and he'd like to get new ones. The average shelf life of a vest is three to five years, and during that time, body sweat, twisting and moving around can damage the Kevlar fabric.

If that happens, Spille says officer safety could be compromised.

"The manufacturer does not guarantee that the vests will work after the five years," Spille said. "They may still be effective, they may still work -- but the manufacturer does not guarantee that, and I personally would not like to find out."

The cost of replacing each vest is estimated at $850, but Spille points to a federal grant program that can pay half the cost. Norwood has financial problems, though, with $2 million in unpaid bills on top of a $500,000 deficit at the end of 2015.

During the meeting, West Chester resident and former Norwood police officer David Bohlinger offered to foot the bill for the vests if the city pays him back within a year. It's unclear whether or not Bohlinger is actually allowed to give Norwood the money. Chief William Kramer says he doesn't want his department to have to rely on donations.

But if the city doesn't buy new vests, it may lead to significant changes within the department.

"The chief has stated that no officer with an expired vest will perform any patrol functions, so nine patrolmen in patrol will be assigned to desk duty," Spille said.

To backfill that, Spille said, they'd pull from the drug unit, criminal investigations unit and any administrative staff. Citizens will still be safe, but detectives may not be available to work on cases.

"You know, if you've got something stolen that they could probably find for you, it's going to be delayed until we can get them back in our office," Spille said.

The vests will stop bullets from most handguns; but Stan Worthington, director of operations at Premiere Shooting and Tactical,  said vests can simply wear out over time and not be safe.

"How they come up with the shelf life is how often you wear it. An officer wears a vest 40 hours a week or more, he's in and out of the car, up and down, body perspiration -- that all takes wear and tear on the shelf life," Worthington said.

I-Team: Many Agencies Keep Up With Warranties

In Alexandria, Kentucky, Police Chief Mike Ward's department switched from body armor worn underneath a shirt to the type worn over clothes a few years ago.

He did it for two reasons: First, officers can take it off and put it on their chair while they're doing office work. But Ward also said over-the-shirt vests save on wear and tear.

"I'm going sweat all day, and that's what breaks down the Kevlar is the body oils over time," he said.

According to the National Institute of Justice, every part of the vest, from the outside to the bulletproof plates inside have a warranty. The recommendation is to replace the vests every five years; some models can cost more than $1,000 each.

Several local agencies contacted by the WCPO I-Team replace their vests every five years or when the warranty expires, in keeping with industry standards:


Cincinnati: Every 5 years; 1,035 officers
Hamilton County: When warranty expires (typically every 5 years)
Warren County: Every 5 years; approximately 100 deputy sheriffs


Alexandria: Every 5 years; 17 officers
Campbell County: Every 5 years; 20 sworn personnel with vests
Kenton County: Every 5 years; 30 deputies

In the end, Alexandria Police Sgt. Natalie Selby said it comes down to safety. Given the choice between an expired vest and no vest, "I would still continue to wear an expired vest," she said. "Absolutely."