Slimmer and lighter bullet-resistant vests for police detectives are being tested in the NYPD, a reaction to February’s inadvertent killing of a city cop from Calverton by a fellow cop, department brass said Friday.
Under the pilot program costing $550,000, 550 of the NYPD’s approximately 5,000 detectives will be custom-fitted with vests that are easier to put on quickly and fit with the suits and ties that many detectives wear, said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
He and other department brass joined Leanne Simonsen, the widow of Det. Brian Simonsen, at his 102nd Precinct in Richmond Hill, Queens, to distribute the first 16 of the new vests, which are being funded by the private Police Foundation.
“She herself handed the first vest to Brian’s partner, and then we threatened them: We better not see you at a crime scene without one of these beautiful vests on,” Shea said later at a news conference.
Simonsen, 42, was shot once in the chest by another officer Feb. 12 while responding to the attempted robbery of a cellphone store in Queens by a man who was later found to have had a toy gun. His attorney said in court that he was trying to commit suicide by cop. Charges against the man, who was also shot by police, have been filed and he is awaiting trial.
Simonsen, in plainclothes, was not wearing his vest. Officers fired a total of 42 shots.
On Friday, Rodney Harrison, the NYPD’s chief of detectives, said that after Simonsen’s killing, the department began to look into vests that detectives would actually wear.
“This all began the day after the horrible day that Brian was killed,” Harrison said, explaining: “Why are investigators wearing raid jackets but not wearing bullet-resistant vests? We know why: The vests are bulky and they don’t fit under their suit jackets.”
Shea said the new vests are lighter and have a zipper on the front. He said, “We have 100 percent confidence” that the vests work. The pilot program will examine: “Are they actually wearing it?”
“The pilot isn’t to do with whether it stops a round,” Shea said. "We know it’s going to stop the rounds. It’s actually, is it going to be worn?”
The usual vests, worn by cops doing enforcement duty, are designed for those in uniform, Shea said.
An NYPD video shows the widow helping distribute the new vests, with a gold detectives’ shield in one corner and “POLICE” across the front and “NYPD POLICE DETECTIVE” on the back, and giving a hug to one of the recipients.
Depending on the results of the pilot and funding, the program could be expanded citywide to all detectives, Harrison said.
The vests, sold by Armor Express, were paid for with help from the Police Foundation, which supplements the NYPD’s municipal budget of $5.6 billion. Money for the vests came from sources including billionaire grocer John Catsimatidis, billionaire investor Mario Gabelli, the Detectives’ Endowment Association labor union, the Hank Greenberg/The Starr Foundation and the Rudin family, said the foundation’s president and chief executive, Susan Birnbaum.
The Rudin family were the ones who helped fund the first police vests about 50 years ago, she said.
Among the vests at the precinct was one in a frame, bearing a patch with Simonsen’s name.