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When Shrapnel Deterrence Is a Lifestyle

January 05, 2003|AL RIDENOUR

At Black Armor, there's an accessory for anyone caught in the crosshairs, real or imaginary. The Woodland Hills company, whose Web site offers a spectrum of bulletproof gear for individuals, automobiles and dogs, is experiencing a boom of late, says Ron Lieberman, vice president of marketing.

"We saw a spike after 9/11," he says, "particularly with flight attendants." During the Beltway sniper attacks this past fall, Black Armor's volume of inquiries nearly doubled. Not long ago, Lieberman says, a foreign embassy ordered an armored car for use in Afghanistan, and sales to Indonesia and the Philippines are brisk. Most recently, concerns about war in Iraq have prompted orders from worried parents of military personnel. As for private clients, Lieberman says, they include LAPD officers, jewelry retailers and a few nervous movers and shakers from the entertainment industry.

Black Armor's protective clothing ranges from the $1,560 tactical assault vest (with detachable shields for upper arms, collar and groin) to concealable styles that range from $600 to $730. A particularly hot item, Lieberman says, is the bulletproof denim jacket. "Just yesterday a couple from Santa Barbara bought a pair."

The inventory also includes bulletproof cars, from the $95,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee to the $142,000 Mercedes S500. The vehicles are outfitted with body panels insulated with a trademarked polyethylene substance said to be 10 times more bullet resistant than steel. Floors and roofs are blanketed with bomb-suppression material, the battery and gas tank are sealed in casings, the radiators wrapped in mesh, and the wheels are fitted with rim inserts that allow the vehicle to run with blown tires. Then there are the add-ons: electrified door handles, smoke-screen or tear-gas release systems, or dispensers to deposit nails or oil in the path of pursuing villains--each at $1,500 a pop.

Man's best friend needn't take any flak, either. Bulletproof doggie vests are usually purchased by K-9 officers, Lieberman says, but "we've had a group of kids in the Midwest chip in to buy one for their local K-9." Thus far no civilian mutts have opted for the attire, but the $850 vest should fit any larger dog targeted by assassins. Black Armor, www.blackarmor.com

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