$173,779 available for police to replace defective bulletproof vests

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NEWARK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and Division of Law are preparing to distribute $173,779 to some 100 New Jersey police departments that purchased defective bulletproof vests from Second Chance Body Armor Inc., a manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in 2004 after the discovery that the vests’ protective armor failed and deteriorated over time, exposing police officers to potential injury. 

“For years before it finally went bankrupt, this company’s so-called bulletproof vests had the potential to put police officers’ lives at risk,” acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

The state began pursuing restitution on behalf of New Jersey police departments before Second Chance Body Armor, based in Michigan, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004. The matter has remained in U.S. Bankruptcy Court since 2004. New Jersey obtained an order for the distribution of funds in August 2013 and has now received a payment from the bankruptcy estate.

“It is hard to imagine a more unconscionable business practice than the sale of defective bulletproof vests for New Jersey police officers,” Division of Consumer Affairs acting director Steve Lee said.

The Division of Consumer Affairs will distribute the funds to the affected police departments on a pro-rated basis. To determine the amount that will be distributed to each department, the division is reaching out this week to the departments that purchased Zylon-based bulletproof vests from Second Chance Body Armor that have not already received full reimbursement from a prior class action lawsuit or from New Jersey’s Body Armor Replacement Fund.

Between 1999 and 2003, the company manufactured bulletproof vests that used Zylon, a synthetic polymer. More than 260 New Jersey police departments purchased a total of about 5,000 of the vests, primarily through a firearms and sporting goods store in North Plainfield. The U.S. Department of Justice, through a grant program, provided matching funds to agencies that purchased Second Chance Body Armor vests.

In about 2003 it was learned that Zylon was a material that failed and deteriorated over time. That same year the Second Chance Body Armor bulletproof vests used by an Oceanside, Calif., police officer and a Forest Hills, Pa., officer reportedly failed. Both officers were shot and suffered significant injuries; the California officer died.

Second Chance Body Armor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2004, and the filing was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation in November 2005.

New Jersey’s total restitution of $173,779 was calculated by offsetting the money the U.S. Department of Justice paid for the vests, as well as the $1.2 million that state police departments received through a separate class action lawsuit against the company that concluded in 2006.

Police departments can contact the division at 800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200.

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