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story.lead_photo.caption Sgt. Tim Howell, of the Fulton Police Department, center, models a new and improved bulletproof vest. Chief Steve Myers, left, said a grant will allow the FPD to purchase about a half-dozen of the vests. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Bulletproof vests keep Fulton Police Department officers safe — and, often, miserable.

But this year, a few lucky officers will receive a major upgrade, FPD Chief Steve Myers announced during Tuesday evening's Fulton City Council meeting.

"It literally has pockets everywhere," said Sgt. Tim Howell, twirling as he modeled the new vest for the council. "I haven't found 'em all yet."

Each year, the FPD receives a grant to help purchase a handful of new bulletproof vests, Myers explained. Vests wear out and become less effective over time, due to normal wear-and-tear from moving around and laundering. Myers said the vests' manufacturers suggest replacing them every three or four years, though the FPD tries to stretch the life of each vest to five years.

Each vest costs $700-$900, and the grant pays for half of the total cost.

"We don't get enough money to replace all of them at once," Myers said. "We won't be able to equip everyone."

Depending on the bid amount, he suspects this year's grant will pay to replace around six old vests with this new model.

These new vests improve on the old ones in several vital ways, said Myers and Howell, who's been trying one out. They've already been adopted by a number of area law enforcement offices, including the Columbia Police Department.

First, they go on over the uniform, rather than underneath. That's helpful in a number of ways.

The vest is covered with pockets and attachment points to hold all kinds of gear. There are even spots to attach body cameras.

"It takes a lot of weight off the belt," Myers said. "A lot of (police officers) have hip and back problems because of the belt."

Being the outermost layer means the vests are a lot easier to take off and put on.

"When it's hot, the officers can come in, take the vest off and cool down," Myers said. "With the other ones, you have to take your shirt off."

They're also more visible: "Police" is printed in bold yellow letters across the back of the vest.

Second, they're simply more comfortable and easier to move around in. Howell said the old vests force officers to get down on one knee if they want to pick something up off the floor, but in his new vest, he can easily bend over at the waist.

Even though they're less restrictive and bulky, the new vests aren't any less protective — in fact, they're rated a class better than the old vests, Myers said.

Finally, they're much easier to wash than the old vests, Howell said.

"These, you can wash in a washing machine," he said. "The old ones you had to take apart and hand-wash, and it'd be a two-day ordeal."

Rush the process and reassemble the vest damp, and a permanent musty funk would cling to it, Howell added.

Having acquired the city council's approval, the FPD soon will request bids to purchase more of the new model vests.

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