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Willmar Police Chief Jim Kulset tries on a bullet resistant vest at the Law Enforcement Center on Thursday. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Willmar Police seek body armor grant

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Police Department will be seeking federal reimbursement for half the cost of replacing 29 bullet-resistant vests worn by the department's sworn officers.

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Funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance is available from April 2009 through September 2011, and the police department is scheduled to replace the vests in February 2011 at an estimated cost of $21,750.

In the past, the department has received up to 50 percent reimbursement through Bureau of Justice grants. Local units of government benefit from this popular program.

"We've been very successful in the past with this,'' said Police Chief Jim Kulset. " I can't think of a time when we haven't when we've applied for it since its existence.''

The vests are replaced every five years to ensure bullet-resistant integrity, he said.

"The manufacturer will only warrant the material or the vest for that five-year period,'' said Kulset. "Rather than take the chance we would have a vest that wouldn't stop what it should, we replace them on that replacement schedule.''

Kulset said moisture and sunlight can deteriorate the vest material. He said the department does not want to compromise the safety of the officers who wear the vests.

"That's why they've always been on that five-year replacement schedule,'' he said. "It's recommended by the National Institute of Justice.''

More than 3,000 police officers' lives have been saved by body armor since the mid-1970s when the National Institute of Justice began testing and developing body armor and performance standards for ballistic and stab resistance.

Recognition and acceptance of the NIJ standard has grown worldwide, making it a performance benchmark for ballistic-resistant body armor, according to the NIJ Web site.

The Web site said there is no such thing as bulletproof armor. Body armor can provide protection against a significant number of types of handgun ammunition, but law enforcement personnel must keep in mind that armor is categorized and rated for different threat levels.

Additional protection should be worn for SWAT team operations, hostage rescues, or special operations assignments, when officers may be exposed to a weapon threat greater than the protection provided by regular duty armor, the NIJ recommends.

The vests to be replaced were replacements for vests recalled by the manufacturer in 2005. The nation's largest supplier of police body armor, Second Chance Body Armor, urged law enforcement agencies to replace 100,000 vests made with Zylon. Second Chance said the material could suddenly deteriorate, causing a loss of bullet protection.

Kulset said old vests are used in a variety of ways. Some are used for training purposes, some are used for ballistic shields for vehicles, and some are given away to police departments in Third World countries that can't afford to have that protection.

Today's vests are lighter, 'breathe' a little better, cover more area and generally fit better than vests of 25-30 years ago, said Kulset.

The vendor who is awarded the contract for supplying the vests will measure each officer to ensure proper fit.

"The vendor that we buy them from measures each officer. If it's a new officer coming on, we send them to the vendor. But when it's a number like this, they come here,'' said Kulset.

The Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee is recommending the council approve Kulset's request to apply for and accept grant funding. The committee's report will be considered by the council at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building, 700 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

In other business, the council will consider an ordinance to sell city-owned land in the industrial park to the City/County Humane Society shelter project, will take comments during the open forum, and receive a presentation from the United Way of Kandiyohi County.

The council will receive an introduction to the proposed comprehensive plan, receive the report from the Finance Committee, and consider the preliminary plat of Bethesda Nursing Home Second Addition.

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