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Inspection shows hundreds of SL County law enforcement officers have expired bullet proof vests

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SALT LAKE CITY — If you drive on an expired license, you could get a ticket. You can't use an expired passport to get in or out of the country, and it's hard to find anyone who says it's a good idea to drink a glass of expired milk.

"You wouldn't want to eat rotten food," said retired FBI special agent Juan Becerra. "Why would you want to wear something like this that puts your life endanger unnecessarily?" Becerra asked as he pointed to an outdated bulletproof vest he once wore as an FBI agent.

After 5 years a manufacturer's warranty on a bulletproof vest expires. Time, sweat, wear and tear can all cause a vest to wear out. On top of this, technology is always changing and vests can become stronger, lighter and more durable.

When KSL TV asked Becerra how he'd feel if he had to wear an expired vest to a law enforcement operation he responded, "Vulnerable, extremely vulnerable."

A KSL Investigators survey of nearly three dozen police departments in Utah shows most follow practices similar to the FBI's.

Generally, agencies track when officers' vests expire, send notifications to officers, fit them for the latest model and provide new vests for free.

When KSL Investigators began reporting on this issue last August, they found the Unified Police Department does things differently, as does the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office. Both are under the command of the sheriff.

The agencies left it up to officers to renew their vests and there was no database to track how many of vests were expired.

Since that report aired, the office has created a tracking system and inspected hundreds of vests. The results of that inspection revealed that 314 vests, or 46 percent of the vests inspected, were expired.

Taxpayers may not be happy to learn how much money has been doled out to a program that was supposed to help cover the costs of replacing now expired vests.

In the last three years, about $2.1 million has been spent on a uniform allowance program. Under the program, deputies and officers are paid between $75 to $100 a month to spend on anything from uniforms, to equipment to dry cleaning.

But the program has little accountability. For example, officers aren't required to show proof of how they spent the money. Plus, the allowance is taxed and no one seems certain if they receive enough to cover uniforms, gear, plus buy a new vest, which costs about $1,000 every 5 years.

An inspection of 677 bulletproof vests used by officer and deputies who work for the Unified Police Department and the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office shows 314, or 46%, of them, are expired. (Photo: KSL TV)
An inspection of 677 bulletproof vests used by officer and deputies who work for the Unified Police Department and the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office shows 314, or 46%, of them, are expired. (Photo: KSL TV)

Finally, the policy doesn't mandate officers replace their vests when it expires, it only recommends they do.

The Utah Fraternal Order of Police, which fights for officers' rights, is calling for change.

"Every officer needs a radio, every officer needs a gun, and a bulletproof vest is no different," said Shante Johnson, spokesperson for the organization. "There is no reason that any department in the state of Utah should have expired equipment on our officers."

Last August, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Justin Hoyal said the office was already discussing changes.

"We're evaluating options to change the vest issuance policy," Hoyal stated at the time.

Six months went by and KSL Investigators asked if there was a new plan yet. Finally, this week, a response from Hoyal. "It's getting close to where we're finalizing, but since, probably over the last year, we've been re-evaluating the policy after the last time you and I talked," he said.

Hoyal said a three-person committee has been reviewing options.

One idea under consideration is to reduce officers' uniform allowance and use that money to establish a fund for the department to buy new vests. But to replace all the expired vests right now the department would need to come up with about $300,000.

"We are doing everything that we can to ensure the safety of our officers," Hoyal said. "Every officer that's out there on the street has a vest. Some may be a little out of warranty, some may not, but we're in the process of fixing that so every vest is under warranty."

Contributing: Emily Dewey


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