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What to know about bulletproof backpacks

Officer Mitchell Harkema says most of these backpacks should be labeled "bullet-resistant" as they cannot withstand rifle rounds.

As students and their parents begin back to school shopping, Walker Police Officer Mitchell Harkema says people have contacted him asking if bulletproof backpacks are worthwhile. 

"I think it's a great tool to have in your toolbox, but I caution people to buy it because a lot of times people think 'OK, I have this one product. I'm invincible, nobody can hurt me,'" Harkema said. "And those incidents are really about having options."

Many students leave their backpacks in their lockers, so Harkema warns it could be a wasted purchase. Bulletproof backpacks range in price from $100 to $500. 

Harkema also says these backpacks should be labeled "bullet-resistant" as they cannot resist all gun types. 

"None of them that I've seen have armor inside them that would withstand a rifle round," he said. 

Harkema explains that it would not be feasible for a student to carry a backpack that could block rifle rounds. 

"It would make the backpack, which is already heavy with homework, books, lunches – even heavier. Sometimes up to 15 or 20 pounds heavier," Harkema said. 

Steve Naremore, CEO of TuffyPacks, says his manufacturing company makes it clear that their products cannot defeat an assault rifle. Naremore started the company, which makes soft armor backpacks and backpack inserts, back in 2015. 

"My daughter is a fourth-grade school teacher, and I remember her saying they were having these active shooter drills," Naremore said. 

Naremore said he wanted to come up with a solution, so he deconstructed a police vest to create a safety measure for students. He says sales go up after every mass shooting. 

"It goes without saying. When the Parkland, Florida, shooting occurred, sales went up and they went up nationwide," Naremore said.

Variations of the bulletproof backpack have been on the market for more than a decade, and some brands can be found at office supply stores like Office Depot. 

Harkema warns that police armor made of similar material has a five-year expiration date, and backpacks, he says, should probably be replaced even sooner.

"Throwing it around on the bus, slamming it into your locker, moving it around school all day, or throwing it down on the floor when you get home... the wear and tear on that is probably a little bit greater than just a vest that you strap on and go through your day," Harkema said. 

Harkema said for this reason, it's wise not to buy these backpacks on eBay or Craigslist. 

Ultimately, Harkema says the priority in an active shooter situation should be getting away from the threat, but hiding behind a backpack can be used as a last resort. 

"If you find it practical and it fits your budget – great. If not, I don't think that's going to be the one thing that keeps you safe 100 percent of the time," Harkema said. 

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