WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice celebrated more than 30 years of success with its federal body armor program earlier this year in a ceremony honoring the first and 3,000th officers saved while wearing bulletproof vests.
The program, developed by the Justice department and the army in the mid-1970s, is designed to protect law enforcement officers and military from stab- and bullet-wounds using Kevlar or Zylon.
On the final day of its annual research conference this year, the department recognized Raymond Johnson, of Seattle, and Corey Grogan, of Atlanta, the first and 3,000th officers, respectively, who were saved from potentially fatal gunshot wounds while wearing the protective gear.
In spite of its success, the body armor program still faces challenges, namely that not enough law enforcement officers consistently wear armor.
Another problem arose in 2003, when injuries sustained by a police officer were attributed to the Zylon fabric used in his bulletproof vest. Officials cited premature degradation of the material as the reason for the vest’s failure.
National statistics show that 34 of the 50 officers killed by a bullet wound last year were wearing body armor.
Researchers are currently developing new types of bullet-resistant technology, including liquid armor, a lightweight and flexible covering coated with a thickening fluid designed to protect against various kinds of impact.
The fluid consists of nanoparticles, invisible to the eye, that, upon impact, form a barrier strong enough to stop a bullet or punctures from knives, needles or ice picks.
Manufacturers of the new technology plan to market liquid armor to the corrections industry first because correctional officers face threats from homemade knives and other kinds of blades.