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NJ reimbursing local police departments for defective bulletproof vests

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: State authorities said today that they’re about to begin distributing $173,780 to more than five dozen New Jersey police departments – 9 of them in Bergen County — that bought defective bulletproof vests from a manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy a decade ago.

For years before Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. finally went bankrupt, its Zylon-based vests “had the potential to put police officers’ lives at risk,” state Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

“We are not going to leave these agencies to foot the bill,” he said.

Police departments from Bergen County receiving restitution:

Alpine: $157.37
Edgewater: $736.17
Fairview: $783.46
Fort Lee: $3,784.42
Midland Park: $2,030.52
North Arlington: $1,667.57
Old Tappan: $917.50
Ridgefield Park: $489.05
Wyckoff: $224.29

The divisions of Law and Consumer Affairs began pursuing restitution after the Michigan-based company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004. They obtained an order from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court last August for the distribution of funds and recently received a payment.

They then determined the pro-rated amount to be distributed to each police agency ( SEE CHART BELOW ). Of 100 initially contacted by the state, 63 confirmed specific amounts and are being reimbursed.

“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 officers who daily risk their lives to protect their fellow New Jerseyans deserve better.”

More than 260 New Jersey police departments purchased 5,000 or so Second Chance Body Armor vests, primarily through a firearms and sporting goods store in North Plainfield, from 1999 through 2003.

Then it was discovered that Zylon, a synthetic polymer, fails and deteriorates over time. In 2003, bulletproof vests used by an Oceanside, California police officer and a Forest Hills, Pennsylvania police officer failed. The California officer died of his injuries while the other sustained a severe gunshot wound.

By order of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the $173,778.90 restitution was calculated by offsetting the money the U.S. Department of Justice paid for the vests, as well as the total of $1.2 million that New Jersey police departments previously received through a separate class action lawsuit against Second Chance Body Armor, which was concluded in 2006.

Lead Investigator Van Mallett of the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Case Initiation and Tracking Unit is directing the distribution of funds.

Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Kant, of the Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group within the Division of Law, represented the state.

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