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PITTSBURGH Mistake over helmets costs police $10,000



Published: Thu, March 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A Web site listed the police helmet as one that had failed federal tests.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh police supervisors ordered all motorcycle officers off the streets and bought new helmets after mistakenly believing their helmets failed government safety tests.

The newly purchased helmets and communications devices cost about $10,000, and police are standing by the decision, contending enough questions were raised about the old helmets to warrant replacement. The federal government says the helmets are safe.

Assistant Chief Nathan Harper sidelined the 22-member squad last month after Sgt. Reyne Kacsuta told Harper she was concerned about the Bell Pro Police helmet model SD600V.

The problem began when an officer saw one of the helmets for sale at a police uniform store without a Department of Transportation sticker and began searching the Web.

The officer found a Web site run by the Massachusetts branch of the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, a group opposed to mandatory helmet laws.

The site contains a list of helmets that failed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, including 1998 Bell Pro Police SD600V.

Randy Smith, president of Utah-based Bell Pro Police Products, said all SD600V models have DOT stickers that couldn't fall off.

About the testing

Helmet makers test helmets themselves to ensure they comply with DOT standards, and the government may do its own testing. In 1998, the government tested four of the Bell models in question.

A government letter to Bell mentioned "possible noncompliances" with testing standards.

"There was one test result that didn't match up. That happens a lot," said Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "That doesn't mean it's failed the standard. It means we want to check up on it."

Bell told the government that out of 304 impacts on 38 helmets, one failed. The data satisfied the government that the helmet was safe.

"We followed up. We got information from the manufacturer. We closed the case. We did not find that it was in noncompliance," Hurd said.

Harper said he didn't know the helmets had been found in compliance.

Lt. Karen Dixon, who was in charge of investigating the helmets, maintains the helmet shouldn't be used by Pittsburgh police because of the impact failure.




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