Kevlar® Dare Bigger™ Moments: Safariland Group 

Kevlar® Dare Bigger™ Moments

Britt Sweeney was on her second patrol with the Seattle Police Department in 2009 when she and her training officer, Tim Brenton, pulled their cruiser over to discuss a traffic stop. As they talked, a car came alongside their vehicle. Sweeney, who was in the driver’s seat, looked up to witness “the brightest muzzle flash I’ve ever seen” coming from the other car. The shooter’s first round grazed the top of her head. Another struck the middle of her back.

Along with a measure of good fortune, something else stood between Sweeney and the likelihood of death that night: DuPont™ Kevlar® fiber. In an instant, she became the1,704th person saved by Safariland Group’s ballistic body armor manufactured with Kevlar®.

The Safariland name has been synonymous with quality law enforcement gear for more than a half century. Founded as a holster manufacturer in 1964, Safariland soon branched out, and in the mid-1970s, under the trade name Safariland Ballistics, became the first company to successfully incorporate Kevlar® into a commercial body armor product. Those first-generation “bullet-resistant” vests were assembled from as many as 30 layers of Kevlar® fabric, each one stitched to the next. They were bulky. They were heavy. But they worked.

Over the years, thanks to continued materials and process innovations, Safariland has achieved an average 30% weight reduction in its ballistic vests. In 1995 it became the first manufacturer to bring to market a body armor product that weighed less than a pound.

“From the very start, we’ve depended on DuPont’s materials and expertise,” said Tim O’Brien, Director for Soft Armor at Safariland Group. “It’s a natural relationship. And it’s just evolved over the years.” 

In the U.S., body armor performance guidelines are set by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The NIJ establishes and revises voluntary minimum performance standards for ballistic apparel and tests commercial products against those standards. In 2008, the NIJ announced that its standards would become markedly more stringent by 2009, leaving Safariland with two options: produce a thicker, heavier product or overcome the current limitations through innovation. It chose the latter.

“We got together with DuPont about two years ago and laid down a new set of requirements,” said O’Brien. “It was a ground-up project. The fibers and fabrics were developed with the feedback of the technical teams at DuPont and Safariland. Our goal was to use DuPont’s latest technology, and with their help we’ve been able to get back to really nice levels of comfort and flexibility.”

The fruit of that collaboration was Safariland’s Xtreme® product line—body armor designed to exceed the 2016 NIJ ballistic standards. “With Kevlar®, you get an element of softness, of flexibility,” says O’Brien. “But you can’t get there as a total package without the performance that Kevlar® gives you—the back, face, blunt trauma, and special-threat protection. With Kevlar®, we can use less stitching in the product, which gives you a more flexible, thinner, lighter design, which makes a better product for the end user. Someone actually wants to wear that vest all day. It’s not a hindrance.”

Safariland also manufactures a line of structured body armor that offers better coverage and mobility for female officers. “What we’re getting at with the DuPont collaboration is ‘how do we reinvent the body armor line to get the absolute best in female design while meeting the performance standard?’” said O’Brien. “Female armor is very much a growing part of the market. There are a lot of women officers in decision-making positions and they’re looking at armor built specifically for them.”

In 2010 Safariland began tracking the number of law enforcement personnel whose lives had been saved, in part, thanks to their body armor products. Membership in the company’s SAVES Club® now stands at nearly 2,000. Practically each week, a new name is added to the list—names like Britt Sweeney, who, despite her rookie status, managed to spring from the patrol car that October night and return fire, even as her training officer, Tim Brenton, who made the ultimate sacrifice with his life on the seat next to her. During a sentencing trial for the shooter a few years later, an attorney asked Sweeney what her first thoughts were in the midst of the attack.

“I can’t do this” she recalled thinking. But Sweeney didn’t walk away from the job. Five years after the trauma of that night, she’s still on the force, still keeping the people of Seattle safe—thanks in part to Safariland and the defensive power of DuPont™ Kevlar®.

“That’s the most gratifying part of what we do,” said O’Brien. “We’re protecting the good guys out there. Not everyone can say that.”

Copyright © 2015 DuPont. All rights reserved. The DuPont Oval Logo, DuPont™, Dare Bigger™, Kevlar® are registered trademarks or trademarks of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company or its affiliates. Xtreme® is a registered trademark of Safariland Group