More than 1,400 law enforcement officers in the U.S. Marshals Service are wearing expired body armor, despite months of internal warnings, according to documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Washington Post reports. Ballistic vests have become a staple of law enforcement work, but the equipment can wear out or age so much that it becomes less effective at stopping bullets. A senior employee of the U.S. Marshals provided documents to the committee showing that many of the agency’s 3,900 operational employees have body armor with expiration dates in 2016 and 2017. The employee told committee staff he had been pressing the marshals for months to update the vests without much response.
Committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is pressing David Harlow, the head of the agency, to explain why so many of his employees have outdated body armor, and why he had previously testified to Congress that he was not aware of such problems. The Marshals Service guards courthouses, judges and witnesses, but it is best known as a fugitive-hunting agency. Apprehending fugitives, which often involve knocking down doors and searching houses, is dangerous, and ballistic vests are essential gear for that work. “Body armor” is something of a misnomer, because Kevlar and other products are tightly woven fiber panels designed to stop bullets from handguns. But those panels — made to go inside cloth vests — come with expiration dates, typically five years. How a vest is worn and stored can also change the effective life of a ballistic vest.