HARTFORD, Conn. --
Hartford’s finest, the brave men and women hired to secure the state’s capitol city, are wearing outdated Kevlar vests beyond the manufacturer's recommended 5-year guarantee.
Officers anonymously confided in the I- Team that the department was behind on ordering and re-issuing vests and that some several years past their manufacturer's date.
The officers who spoke to the I-Team said they weren’t looking to blow the whistle on the police administration or the city, when they went to the union in April. They still haven’t received new vests.
"It was brought to management's attention. Guys are wearing vests, which have passed the five-year mark. Their response was we are aware of it. We're working on it. We're in the procurement process," said Rich Holton, the president of the Hartford Police Union.
“I’m dismayed they'd tell you they're wearing something they think is unsafe, yet not bring it to management so we could take care of it. That boggles my mind! Or go to the union and say 'Hey listen, we need this, what's the chief doing?' That's just crazy," said Police Chief Daryl Roberts.
Officers told the I-Team that they’ve complained at union meetings, some even to their superiors.
"I've asked for a new vest a couple different times. I was always told we don't have a vendor or it's going to be awhile," said one officer.
“'There were concerns about it and people talked about it, and we've addressed it, but it didn't get to the point it was a danger to our officers," Roberts said. “Put it this way, nobody's ever been denied body armor. Never, at least not under my administration."
Ed O'Neill, a body armor expert and vendor, said Kevlar vests deteriorate naturally, brought on by normal wear and tear, heat, humidity and moisture.
"The five-year warranty is a very strict warranty. What they've done is take all that into consideration. The point is you can't have a vest that's 90 percent effective. It needs to be 100 percent because of the importance of saving lives," O’Neill said.
After the I-Team began asking questions three week ago, the department initially told us officers would be fitted for new vests starting Jan. 23. Then an internal police memo was issued a day later, calling for four voluntary vest fittings beginning Feb. 3 through the 14.
Roberts said the fittings began before the I-Team starting reporting the story.
"We've been dutifully and diligently trying to make sure we outfit our officers with the safest equipment," Roberts said.
According to purchase orders obtained by the I-Team dated May 7 , 175 new vests, costing $100,625.000 were ordered. Thirty-seven of the 175 vests were issued to new graduates at Hartford’s police academy last summer. Two more went to a Lieutenant and Police officer Dave Ragion, who was shot three times last July. The last time Ragion was issued a vest before the shooting was in 2004.
“If the vest was quote 'past the 5-year manufacturer's recommendation,' and it worked," said Roberts.
The I-Team investigation found that the delay in issuing officers new vests involves signed purchase invoices that were received but never delivered, a slow procurement process, and a vendor who went bankrupt.
Roberts said the new vests should be delivered within four to six weeks.
In the meantime, officers will continue to wear their old vests.
O'Neill said the vests are probably still effective, but he can’t guarantee that.
“I certainly would not want to put my son in this. It's not the kind of thing you want to take a chance on. If you're taking a cancer medicine, do you wanna take a brand that might be expired? It might be OK. It might not be, it's the same thing," ONeill said.
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