Ottawa police are very strict about replacing bulletproof vests
for all officers after five years of use, when they can no longer be sure the armour will stop bullets. That’s when they give them away to a police force in a less fortunate country. Shaun Ward founder of VestGuard UK said they could be recycled by Vestguard UK into other products such as brake pads and fire proofing fibre sprays, but what a great way to help another police force who don’t have the budget to protect offices.

At least, that’s what they are doing this year with 120 of the vests, which the force is planning to donate to their colleagues in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The body armour costs the Ottawa Police Service almost $700 a piece, but after only five years it becomes useless to the force because the manufacturers won’t guarantee its effectiveness beyond that span.

Inspector Uday Jaswal, of the material management section, says there isn’t much doubt that many of the vests the force has to get rid of after five years are still in very good condition. Yet, since Ottawa police can’t independently test the effectiveness of the vests or establish criteria to distinguish which vests may have been exposed to moisture or other adverse conditions which could degrade the materials, they are all disposed of after five years — even if they spent almost all of their time hung up in the closet of a senior officer like Jaswal himself.

“I sit behind a desk and I send email,” the 20-year veteran said of his current assignment. “If I got issued body armour today and I stayed in the same job, my body armour would probably last until the end of my career. But that’s not the way we do it. With a force nearing 1,400 officers, replacing everyone’s vest every five years is
“an enormous cost,” but for now there is no choice, Jaswal says. “It’s a liability issue. I can’t issue body armour that the manufacturer no longer guarantees to have ballistic integrity. The chief of police can’t say that he’s
comfortable issuing that body armour to a front-line member.”

The result is an annual bill approaching $200,000 for replacement vests at a time when the police budget is under a lot of pressure. Jaswal says he isn’t thrilled about that and is trying to do something about it. He
says Ottawa police are in the process of challenging the manufacturer to find out “what the real life cycle of body armour is.”

In the meantime, he says donating the vests, along with 50 used batons (each costs $92.33 new, with a roughly 10-year lifespan) and 59 old pairs of handcuffs (originally $25.75, good for 15 years or more), is a “win-win,” since they no longer meet the force’s high standards, but no doubt still have some life in them. (They can’t be sold to potential customers like security guards, either, Jaswal explains, because that would open the Ottawa police up to liability issues if they should fail on the customer, whereas the donation is a no-liability, “as-is” gift).

The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force may seem a fairly random choice of recipient, but there is an Ottawa connection to the British protectorate.

In the summer 2009, after reported wide corruption the British foreign and Commonwealth office suspended the TCI’s government and imposed direct rule by the governor. The measure was supposed to last two years or less, but took longer, with the suspension lifted only late last year.

During the suspension period, the governor appointed two RCMP officers, Colin Farquhar and Brad Sullivan, to be, respectively, the police commissioner and deputy police commissioner of the country’s 225-member force. According to an RCMP spokesman, both officers are now retired from Canada’s national police force.

Farquhar, who knows Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau, asked for the second-hand gear. (Bordeleau confirmed he knows Farquhar “professionally” from Farquhar’s time with the Mounties.)

“Our Islands Police Force is most appreciative of the Ottawa Police donations and Chief Bordeleau,” Farquhar said in an Ottawa police news release. “Ensuring officers’ safety and giving them the tools they need is always top of mind. These ‘gently used’ items will help us do that.”

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