Body armor saves lives of 2 Schenectady SWAT officers

“They stuck to their training. They knew they had a job to do, and they did a great job.”

For two Schenectady police officers, the word “thankful” has profound meaning. Both officers — members of Schenectady New York Police Department SWAT team — went to a home to execute a search warrant on February 21, 2010 related to a homicide that occurred two days earlier. There were two entry teams for this operation. Each team had two cover officers, two breachers, and three officers. Officer Thomas Kelly was on the first team, and Officer Jeremy Pace was on the second.

Officer Kelly and another officer breached the first door and made entry into the hallway; subsequently, entry had to be made through a second door. There were two doors to get into the apartment. The team leader opened the second door, which was unlocked, and entered. In the process of opening it, the door closed off the stairs on the second floor where the suspect was. The officers were on the first floor, and they yelled, “Police!” Officer Pace, on the second team, was almost at the threshold of the second door.

Shots Fired!
Suddenly, the suspect fired a shot between the edge of the door and wall. Officer Pace’s ballistic vest and gas mask were struck, and the pouches on his back were blown apart. He was hit in the chest through his equipment. “It spun me right around. The impact was definitely felt. He fired at me from the side. I didn’t have any injuries whatsoever,” Officer Pace said.

Officer Kelly heard the blast. He was perpendicular to Officer Pace, and he was struck in the abdomen. “I didn’t feel any pain. I didn’t see a hole in the door. I really didn’t know what happened at first. I was the second man in the entry team. Obviously, the adrenalin was running,” Officer Kelly said.

The suspect had loaded a second round. Officer Shawn Clifford, the third officer on the second team, verified shots were fired and saw the muzzle flash but could not see the suspect to identify the threat. He shouted commands to drop the gun, and the suspect came out. He was taken down to the ground, and Officer Kelly placed cuffs on him.

Training Kicks In
Officer Kelly was thinking, “Am I OK? What was that?” He said, “I heard. I felt it. I knew it happened. It happened so fast. It was kind of in between the reality of what happened, and I have a job I have to finish. Training and repetition kicks in. What do I have to do next”?

Commands were shouted for others to exit, and two other people were removed from the building. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much adrenalin. I asked another team member, Shawn Clifford, to take a look at me to make sure I didn’t have an injury,” Officer Kelly said.
The end result was minor bruises on his stomach.

“We have our tactics and equipment and that is what I think saved us that day. Tom took a point blank shot to the chest,” said Officer Pace, an eight year member of the SWAT team.

“They showed great restraint after being fired on. They were not discharging their weapons after being shot. After being shot, they continued on and did their job. They showed great restraint with other residents inside the house. They stuck to their training. They knew they had a job to do, and they did a great job,” Sgt. Luciano Savoia said.

New Armor Purchased
Just six months before this incident, the Schenectady Police Department had purchased new military-grade body armor from Point Blank Solutions. The vests are top-of-the-line, comfortable, adjustable, and are rated for rifle protection. The vest is Dupont KXP, DuPont’s top line product, according to Mr. Norm McLeod, a Manufacture Representative for Point Blank Solutions Body Armor. One vest retails for $1600.00.

“The vest definitely saved one of the officer’s lives. “From Point Blank’s view, all vests work if you wear them. We thank the officers for their bravery,” he said. Each officer was honored by Point Blank with a 2x2 plaque and Point Blank replaced each officer’s vest at no charge, as they do for all officers whose lives are saved by their vests.

Both Officers Kelly and Pace were in an extremely dangerous situation and were fortunate to be wearing body armor that saved their lives. As members of the SWAT team, these officers are cognizant of the dangers they confront, they also recognize how close they came to losing their lives if the bullets had not been resisted by body armor tough enough to deflect the intended consequences.

Stay in the Fight!
Despite their harrowing experience, both Officer Pace and Officer Kelly continue in their roles with ongoing dedication to public safety, and they downplay the danger that confronted them. “I kind of minimize it. You do everything the way you’ve always done,” Officer Pace said.

Officer Kelly, a member of the SWAT team for four years, thinks along the same lines as his colleague. “I kind of treated it as the vest did its job but no big deal. I still think about it and evaluate it. I appreciate the body armor and equipment that the department and SWAT team has at its disposal. I think about it, but it’s not something that holds me back,” Officer Kelly said. Undoubtedly, it was an incident that neither officer will forget.

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