Company Making NYPD Body Cameras Has History of Defective Merchandise and Bribery

VieVu did not reveal that in a previous incarnation, it faced charges of manufacturing faulty flak jackets and paying off UN officials.

A body camera in use in a Utah town.
A body camera in use in a Utah town. George Frey/Getty Images

The company the NYPD picked to manufacture its first round of body cameras has had to cough up millions in fines to settle charges it deliberately sold faulty flak jackets to the federal government and secured contracts with the United Nations through bribery.

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Last month, the city announced that it had chosen VieVu, a product line of the military and law enforcement supplier Safariland Group, to produce 5,000 chest-mounted recording devices for a police department pilot program. According to a timeline on its website, the Safariland brand began as a small maker of customized gun holsters that eventually came to be owned by Armor Holdings, a manufacturer of protective gear.

The British company BAE Systems acquired Armor Holdings in 2007, and changed its name to Safariland in 2008. In October of the latter year, the Department of Justice wrung the company for $30 million for “knowingly manufacturing and selling defective Zylon bullet-proof vests.”

“The United States alleged that Armor Holdings manufactured and sold Zylon bullet-proof vests despite possessing information showing that the Zylon materials degraded quickly over time and were not suitable for ballistic use,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorneys office. “The Armor Holdings vests were purchased by the federal government, and by various state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies that were partially reimbursed by the United States under the Justice Department’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership program.”

In 2011, Safariland signed a non-prosecution agreement with the United States government with the Justice Department, in which the company “admits, accepts and acknowledges responsibility” for “corrupt payments” to a U.N. procurement official to secure contracts for body armor for peacekeeping missions. The agreement describes how, between 2001 and 2006, the company’s vice president for sales and the managing director of Armor Products International—a wholly owned subsidiary—arranged a payment to the U.N. officer in exchange for inside information that enabled them to underbid competitors.

This resulted in Armor obtaining $7.1 million from two deals with the United Nations, which reaped $1.5 million in profits for the company. The Armor Holdings executives employed fraudulent accounting methods to conceal the payoffs.

Armor’s compliance with a broader ongoing probe and its payment of a $10.29 million penalty to the federal government protected the company from being brought up on charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It did not, however, shield it from Security and Exchange Commission action.

In July 2012, a federal judge approved a consent judgment which ordered the company—now doing business as Safariland—to hock up almost $5.7 million in fines and disgorged profits. The jurist also enjoined the company from further violations of the Exchange Act, and ordered it to institute a number of internal reforms.

Several of the company’s attorneys and executives signed off on the judgment, including those representing the new ownership, Maui Acquisition Corporation.

Curiously, Safariland—which, according to files the Observer viewed, has done as nearly $12 million in business with New York City since 2009—did not report this judgment on disclosure forms it filed with the city in September 2012 or in August 2016. These forms, issued through the city’s VENDEX system, seek to flag bad actors by inquiring whether contractors or their subsidiaries have been subject to any investigations, judgments, injunctions, liens and/or felony or misdemeanor convictions in the past five years.

On each of these questions, Safariland answered “no.”

A spokesperson for the company described these false answers as “inadvertent,” and noted the company had divulged its brushes with the law in VENDEX forms submitted last decade.

The public relations representative described the facts outlined above about its past criminal activities and investigations as “misleading and inaccurate”—even though they are extensively documented in publicly available legal documents bearing the signatures of top Safariland and Maui lawyers and officers. He blamed the defective bullet-proof vests on Toyoba, the supplier of the product Zylon.

The spokesperson also alluded to the ownership changes in 2007 and 2012, which saw Safariland/Armor Holdings purchased by BAE Systems and then by Maui. What the representative declined to mention was that Maui is an affiliate of Kanders & Company, owned by Warren Kanders—the founder of Armor Holdings, who ran the company prior to its 2007 purchase by BAE.

This is explicitly stated on the timeline on Safariland’s website.

“In July 2012, BAE Systems completed the sale of Safariland to an affiliate of Kanders & Company, whose CEO is the same Warren B. Kanders that founded Armor Holdings, Inc.,” the timeline reads.

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, leaders of the City Council’s Black Latino and Asian Caucus voiced concern with the city’s selection of the VieVu body camera, pointing out that San Francisco and Cincinatti had experienced problems and memory loss with the company’s software.

Company Making NYPD Body Cameras Has History of Defective Merchandise and Bribery