WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue police sergeant designed a new bulletproof vest and now he’s selling it to other law enforcement nationwide.
Travis Neal is the founder and CEO of Focus Tactical Design.
“Everyone is aware of what police officers do, but one of the things people don’t understand is the wear and tear it takes on your body,” Neal said. “There are a lot of challenges with that, just physical challenges, day in and day out.”
Neal, who works as a patrol officer most days but a part-time SWAT sergeant on occasion, said the extra 20 pounds he’d carry every day was taking a toll on his health.
“For me, it was always my hips were destroyed at the end of the day,” he said.
CBS4 talked to several police officers nationwide and found out they often complain of bad backs, bruised bones and muscle misery. While there are no statistics backing up how many times those officers head to the doctor for their injuries, a local physician weighed in.
“The typical injuries I see are lower back strains so lumbar strains muscular skeletal injuries,” said Dr. Mark Osborne with OrthoIndy. “There is some research that suggests long term they can have more arthritic issues, too.”
Neal knew there had to be a better way. He wanted the professional look of his everyday wear, but the lighter load and efficiency of his SWAT gear. He turned to Purdue’s apparel and design department for help.
“Almost everything that I said they were going, ‘Yeah, we could do that’ or ‘Yeah, that’s this kind of pocket,’” he recalled. “The trickiest part was finding a color that just matched our uniforms.”
Soon after, Neal paired up with Purdue’s Foundry. The foundry served as a startup incubator, helping with strategy and business plans.
“The foundry helped me with everything from logos, mentors to how you get a product from your head actually into the market,” Neal said.
Neal wore his prototype designs around the department. Other officers started asking when they could get something similar. With them offering suggestions and other improvements, Neal made some slight changes to further personalize the piece. The finished product allows officers to put their bulletproof vest inside and all of their equipment in pockets and other attachments, rather than a utility belt.
“We made a communications tab so the earpiece goes inside and isn’t hanging,” he pointed out. “We designed the pockets with a few things in mind.”
Neal also designed the vests so that it’s more comfortable for officers to sit in their patrol vehicles.
Three years later, he has a product that he is manufacturing and selling nationwide. The vest carrier goes for $250, compared to others that can cost thousands of dollars.
“We are able to take order, we’re able to ship stuff out. We’ve gotten a lot of interest from officers all over the state,” he said.
Osborne is happy to hear of this new concept.
“A big thing is distributing that weight, so getting the weight off the belt,” he explained.
Neal’s biggest challenge now is that some police departments don’t allow their officers to wear ballistic vests on the outside of their uniforms. Others require every single officer wear the same vest. He hopes he can overcome that roadblock to help law enforcement feel more at ease.
Citizens are optimistic about this new design as well. Because there is a police shortage nationwide, every officer that calls in sick or takes a vacation day makes a difference in public safety.