KALAMAZOO – Jon Priebe says the initial reactions he gets to his ballistics shield is “why didn’t I think of that?”
Priebe, a retired Lansing police officer who continues to work in law enforcement, has invented a bulletproof, transparent shield designed to protect the head and neck of police officers, especially those in a department’s uniform patrol division. The shield is the result of Priebe’s own experiences in that division. He established Citadel Defense Technologies with business partner J. Bryan LeGwin to produce the shield.
“While working patrol I was a Field Training Officer,” Priebe said. “In training new recruits I would teach them how to be safe and what to look for. Uniform Patrol has really one of the hardest jobs and yet they have the least amount of protection.”
The ballistics shield picks up where department-issue bulletproof vests stop. When Priebe first started his law enforcement career he had to buy his own vest as did Matthew Pinto, who was an officer with the St. Louis County, Missouri for 10 years, and is owner of a Kalamazoo-based manufacturing company which is producing the shield.
Pinto, co-owner of Pinto Products, calls the shield a “gamechanger” for law enforcement. He said he remembers older officers balking at having to wear bulletproof vests when they were first introduced and he said he expects some initial resistance to the shield similar to the reactions of veteran police officers to the vest.
The shield, which weighs 10 pounds, is made of a polycarbonate urethane laminate which is 7/8 of an inch thick and contains two light modules which each produce 1,000 lumens, enough to temporarily blind someone. Pinto says the shield will stop a handgun round up to and including a 357 magnum which was enough to convince officials with the National Institute of Justice to approve the protective device.
“It withstood five shots from a 350 magnum. None of them penetrated. That was the piece of the puzzle we were waiting for,” Pinto said. “Having it certified by the National Institute of Justice makes it eligible for federal funds.
“It’s designed to protect the head and neck,” Pinto said. “It won’t stop everything. It’s designed to offer an extra level of protection to patrol officers.”
A sheriff’s department in California has already placed an order for testing purposes. Pinto said the shield will retail for $1,599 which is less than other shields available.
Priebe was issued a patent for the shield in 2013, eight years after he began designing it. A mutual friend introduced him to Pinto. Their individual experiences and the number of officers who have died after being shot is always on their minds.
The level of sophistication of guns and ammunition and the information about how to use them so readily available makes the shield a necessary part of an officers protective equipment.
“In uniform patrol you have no idea what you’re walking up on like suspects or a barricaded gunman,” Priebe said. “As you’re walking up on a car most criminals all know that police wear a vest. With my shield it’s like walking up with two flashlights and bulletproof covering for the head and neck. Whoever is going to take you out has to overcome that also.”
The death of Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield on September 9 is a recent example of what the shield may have prevented. During a routine traffic stop Butterfield was shot in the head and found lying on the ground by a passing motorist.
Following Butterfield’s death, Priebe said he was called into a Michigan State legislators office to find out why the shield wasn’t in every police officers patrol car.
Officers who respond to crisis situations such as school shootings are just as vulnerable as Butterfield was, he said.
“If you had a school shooting and were to lock down the school, officers would immediately establish a perimeter and wait for the Special Tactics team to show up and that doesn’t work because kids are being killed,” Priebe said. “In the meantime you’ve got a team of officers going in with minimal protection to begin the search for the suspect.”
Pinto said any prudent police officer would approach a suspect or suspicious situation holding the shield which is almost exactly like holding a standard-issue flashlight because it’s designed to be held with one hand.
“If (Trooper Butterfield) had walked up to that car and had this and it was on he certainly would have blinded the guy. Even if the lights had been hit, the bullet would have been stopped,” Pinto said.
“I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when this shield takes a bullet meant for an officer. You can’t put a price on that.”