Tactical gear safety questioned following deaths of 2 vest-wearing deputies

DENVER -- The deaths of Adams County Sheriff's Deputy Heath Gumm and Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, who were both gunned down in separate incidents while wearing bullet proof vests, is raising questions about the adequacy of their protective gear.

Adams County Sheriff Michael McIntosh said it's too early to know whether Gumm's vest failed.

"Until we get into it further," he said, "and know exactly what happened, whether it was a failure of the vest, or whether he was hit in an area the vest didn't cover, we should know more after the autopsy."

Governor John Hickenlooper weighed in on the issue Thursday.

"I know with Deputy Parrish, he had all his tactical wear," Hickenlooper said. "So, I think the challenge here is, is our tactical wear strong enough?"

Plea to lawmakers

Former Pueblo police officer Randy Wills said in a post to social media the current tactical wear isn't strong enough.

Wills posted a plea on Facebook asking Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to create a fund, which local law enforcement agencies can use to purchase upgraded protective wear for their officers. He estimates the price tag would be about $7 million.

"How many brothers and sisters have to die before the political climate is right to come together," he wrote.

Wills noted that Texas established such a fund in 2017.

The bill authorizing the fund states that any vest purchased with that grant money "must comply with the National Institute of Justice standard for rifle protection."

New technology

Wills, who is now in the protective gear industry, spoke to Denver7 by phone from the Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas.

"There are products on display here that are less than a half inch thick and can stop AK-47 rounds," he said. "They weigh less than one and-a-half pounds and could potentially save officer's lives."

Wills was quick to note that they won't save every officer's life.

"Absolutely not," he said. "If an officer is hit in the head or the neck, or something like that, we can't save all of them. But if we save one officer after spending $7 million, by golly, I think it's worth it."


Wills said the the high cost of such protective wear is what's keeping law enforcement agencies from upgrading right now.

He said bullet proof vests aren't really bullet proof — they're bullet resistant.

He added that regular vests cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 and that the high tech plates run an additional $300 to $700.

"If they already have a vest, the plates can go on the vest and add protection," he said.

Wills told Denver7 that you can't put officers in a head to toe suit, "like Robo Cop or Iron Man. That's just not feasible."

He said that attire wouldn't be good for public perception. 

"We don't want them to look like storm troopers," he said.

The new plates are "very concealable," he added, "and are light enough that they can be worn by the officers all the time."

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