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Police protest overturned body armor ruling

January 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
It was illegal for convicted felons to buy body armor after getting out of prison, but that's been changed by a court ruling, and law enforcement agencies are protesting.The law that prohibited felons from purchasing body armor has been on the books for more than a decade, but it was overturned last month after an appellate court ruled that the law was too vague.

Wednesday, Attorney General Jerry Brown repeated his call to have the law restored as a way to protect police officers all over California.

It was Feb, 29, 1997 when two men clad in body armor robbed a Bank of America branch in North Hollywood. When they walked out the front door, they entered into a 45-minute gun battle with the LAPD.

"As they engaged the officers, countless officers struck those individuals with their weapons. They fired on those two assailants, and they struck those assailants numerous times. But because of ballistic body armor, again, attired from head to toe, those individuals were able to overcome the officers' actions," described Asst. Chief Michel Moore of LAPD.

Both bank robbers died, but before the rampage was over, 10 police officers and five civilians were injured. The North Hollywood shootout made international news, and it was the catalyst for a state law that barred felons from purchasing ballistic body armor. This law has been ruled unconstitutional by a California court of appeals. It's a ruling that's outraged the law enforcement community, including LAPD's Moore.

"People, let's be clear. Our convicted felons who wear ballistic body armor are doing so for the purpose of going out and commit violence on others," explained Moore. At a news conference in San Francisco Wednesday, police chiefs from across the state urged state lawmakers to enact emergency legislation that would restore the ban.

"If we do not protect our police officers, we cannot protect you. This is a common sense issue. We're grateful indeed that the attorney general was going forward with his appeal, but we call upon the members of the state legislature to realize that this is a call for emergency legislation," said Chief Rob Davis of the San Jose Police Department.

Along with action from lawmakers, police officials are also hoping the state Supreme Court will overturn the lower court's ruling, restoring the ban on ballistic body armor for felons. The lower court ruled the ban failed to clearly define what constituted body armor.

"This is not the first time that a judicial ruling has trumped common sense," said Davis.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown says his office is petitioning the state Supreme Court to review the decision, but the court is not obligated to review the decision.