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LA police chief wants ban on felons owning body armor

2009-12-25 14:26 BJT

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck urged California's Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal a court decision that overturned a state law preventing violent felons from owning body armor in a letter released on Thursday.

In this open letter sent to Brown, Beck warned that the decision would give criminals an upper hand. "The increasing number of assaults with deadly weapons against our frontline public safety defenders is a clear indication that we cannot give violent felons the upper hand," said the letter, "there is an absolute need for a ban on these types of body armor for anyone other than law enforcement personnel or law enforcement related personnel."

Last Thursday, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles overturned a state law that banned felons from owning body armor, saying the law was unconstitutional because the definition of body armor was too vague.

"We do not see how, without providing something like an official list of prohibited vests, the statute can be said to provide either fair notice to a defendant or meaningful guidelines to the officer on the street," said Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein.

The law was challenged by an attorney appointed to represent Ethan Saleem, a parolee with a previous manslaughter conviction and four other felonies on his record. Saleem was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 2007 when police found that he was wearing a military-style bulletproof vest under his shirt.

According to Beck, the need for the ban is even more urgent today because police officers are increasingly vulnerable from criminals wielding high-power firearms.

Four LAPD officers came under unprovoked gunfire in 2008, and the number doubled to eight in 2009. So far this year, seven LAPD officers have reported being randomly fired upon.

"The men and women defending public safety across the state and the people of California deserve no less," said Beck.

The California State Legislature passed the law in 1998, a year after a bloody shootout between police officers and bank robbers wearing military-grade body armor in North Hollywood.

Before being fatally wounded, the bank robbers injured 10 police officers and about a half-dozen passersby.

Editor: Zhang Pengfei | Source: Xinhua