Lee County resident Robert “Bobby” Scali doesn’t want to save the world — just the lives of law enforcement. And civilians. And even dogs.
And he’s got a plan, a product and a company that’s been allowing him to succeed at his goal. He is founder/director of operations/ head ninja of Vector Defensive Systems, makers of the Vector Ballistic Shield, Mr. Scali’s own invention that resists not only handgun rounds, but also rifle shots, knives, bricks, baseball bats and needle sticks.
And it all started with a pizza box.
About three years ago, Mr. Scali was eating pizza when he saw a video of a Boston police officer being shot in the face. Most of us would probably have thought, “Oh, my God, how tragic,” and moved on to the next channel as we finished chewing our pepperoni slice. But not Mr. Scali. He doesn’t think like most people. He’s a former 18 Delta with the 5th Special Forces Group, a military unit that is one of the most decorated active duty U.S Army Special Forces groups in the armed forces. In short, Mr. Scali was a medic with the Green Berets. He also has a background in close protection, and has been a bodyguard for Hollywood action star Steven Seagal.
So when Mr. Scali saw a cop being shot, his first thought was, “How can I prevent something like this from happening?” he said.
“I understand tactics and ballistic material. I understand the human body and where being struck by a bullet will cause the most damage. I developed a tool to protect the center line of the officer’s body.”
After reviewing video upon video of law enforcement shootings, Mr. Scali noticed what he calls the one single thread that he observes without fail — the flinch response.
“Before the shot rings out and the officer sees the gun, they flinch,” he said. “They get their hands up in front of their face. They do it even when shot in the face or the head — even if they couldn’t stop the trajectory of the round. The officer will get hands up because the hands react faster than the rest of the body.”
In a training exercise, the Vector shield prevents a law enforcement officer from a potentially lethal wound in the critical seconds it takes him to draw his weapon.
As Mr. Scali thought about it, he immediately designed a shield on the only medium he had available — a pizza box.
The shield would have to be in a “V” shape to protect the core of the body. From his knowledge of medicine in a military setting, Mr. Scali recognized that protecting an officer’s head and center mass is critical. Bullet wounds to the arms or legs were less likely to be lethal, and could be treated — head or body wounds were more likely to end in death.
“I designed the Vector to be the first true deescalation tool available to law enforcement that’s not aggressive in nature,” Mr. Scali said. “It had to be lightweight, but I needed to use a material that stopped a rifle round as well as a handgun.”
After experimenting with several different materials, he found what he calls “the strongest lightweight steel in the world.”
“It’s the most expensive,” he explained, “but it’s by far the most rugged.”
Through his contacts with Special Forces, he was able to find a supplier for the steel, said Wendy Vogenberger, the company’s managing partner and production supervisor. Mr. Scali built the first prototype, which became the first generation.
“He presented it to some police officers that he knew and they loved it,” Ms. Vogenberger said. “In fact, those first few officers that he met with have carried a Vector ever since. Bobby actually made the first several completely by himself, cutting and welding and putting it all together.”
New generations were to follow — each bringing new improvements.
Mr. Scali no longer makes the shields himself. They are constructed at an undisclosed location in Port Charlotte.
The current Vector shield is made of the same steel, but also incorporates a ballistic rubber coating — in addition to a ballistic impact material on the exterior that’s the same used to protect the Pentagon. The most recent improvements have been shooting platforms that make it easier for an officer to return fire or use a Taser, if necessary.
The best part of using the Vector: Training is not required.
Impact without injury
That’s not to say Vector Defensive Systems doesn’t provide training in the use of the shield.
For example, Edward Loder is a Vector instructor who distributes the shield through his company, Green River Tactical Solutions in North Carolina. He has been featured in demonstration and training videos for Vector.
“We train our instructors to teach the police how to use the Vector to protect themselves,” Mr. Scali said. “But an officers can walk up to a car, and even from the position they’re at, if someone deploys a weapon, the officer flinches — he instinctively does that without training. I wanted the tool to work in spite of the officer. Training is good, but it doesn’t kick in until the conscious mind is used to the repetition. The Vector works with the unconscious, based on the flinch response.”
While there are other ballistic shields available, Ms. Vogenberger insists there’s nothing that compares to the Vector.
“Our shield is the only one like it in the entire industry,” she said. “It stops point blank AK47, rifle and handgun rounds, multiple hits. All of our test shields are shot 50 or 60 times without fail and without weakness in the structural components of the shield. Those other shields you see … only stop handgun rounds, and after multiple hits they will break. Also, they will not stop rifle rounds. We stop rifle and shotgun.”
Because the material is so dense, the Vector can withstand the impact of a baseball bat something she said other shields can’t do.
“A woman call hold the shield up in front of her face and a man can swing at it as hard as he can, and it will bend the bat and it will not hurt the person holding the shield. I know because I’ve done it. We have bent aluminum bats around the shields.”
It also protects against dog bites.
“Statistics tell us that more than 5,000 dogs are killed every year because a police officer is walking around the house, and the dog comes up, and he doesn’t know if the dog is a barker or a biter,” Mr. Scali said. “The officer will often shoot and kill the dog. That’s been a problem in every county in Florida. The Vector presents a barrier that gives law enforcement those added seconds to assess a bad situation and then deescalate the amount of force.”
At only 7 pounds, the Vector is easily carried in the officer’s non-firing hand, so that it’s not only easy to maneuver, but he or she can readily reach for a weapon if required. It’s also small enough to appear nonthreatening.
Other shields are larger, and tend to be cumbersome, Ms. Vogenberger said. The Vector is small enough to be used inside a patrol car should an officer be approached in a threatening manner. It also allows officers to safely approach a situation while still maintaining the “21 foot critical gap” the distance a person with a knife can charge at an officer and still be able to cut him or her before being stopped.
“It deescalates violence so it not only protects the officer but it also protects the civilian,” Ms. Vogenberger said. “It is the first product of its kind that does this. It is not offensive. It is not meant to take lives. It does not hurt anyone. It is meant to totally deescalate situations. It gives an officer those extra seconds where they can decide — in a more calm manner — the appropriate use of force they need.”
In one case in Connecticut, the Vector was used to protect against a situation that could easily have ended badly: a man wielding a knife. Officers had to navigate a corridor too narrow for a larger shield. With the Vector, they were able to apprehend the man successfully — without injury to him or to any officers.
“You cannot get one of those large shields down a small corridor or on a bus. We were just picked up by the New York Transit Authority because we have the only shield that will stop rifle rounds that can fit on a bus or subway.”
In fact, the Vector shield is already in use by several law enforcement agencies, including 13 departments in Connecticut, four in Rhode Island, about 10 in Massachusetts (including Boston’s SWAT team) and several in Florida. The security details at Florida State University and the University of Miami will likely be the first schools to use the Vector. They can make the shield appear even more benign by decorating it with their respective school names or mascots.
The Punta Gorda Police Department has expressed interest in having its officers carry the vector, as has another agency in Lee County that wants 30 shields for starters.
“Every single law enforcement agency that has seen it has said, ‘We want it,’” Mr. Scali said.
But there’s one major deterrent.
Battling the budgets
Most of the sales of the Vector come from word of mouth, Ms. Vogenberger said. One law enforcement agency will see a demonstration and — sometimes without buying — still recommend the shield to another.
“There is a gentleman named Mario Oliveira who has been shot six times,” she said. “He died on the table twice. He goes around the country promoting legislation to help officers who have been shot or wounded, and he is a top proponent of the shield.”
But the demand is greater than the financial resources available.
“From a budget standpoint, our price points cannot be beat,” Ms. Vogenberger noted. “Each shield is handmade and hand welded. It is truly the best manufactured shield on the market. It cannot break. You can drop it in water and leave it for months, pick it right up, shake it off and it will work fine.
“Most ballistic shields that have sold in law enforcement are $3,000 to $5,000. Ours is about a third of that — and we offer volume discounts.”
While that may be a bargain, relatively speaking, it still doesn’t fit into most law enforcement agencies’ budgets.
“We have the most highly trained police forces in the world,” Mr. Scali said. “We are the benchmark for law enforcement in the world. When police tell me they want this, I have to fight budgets to get it to them because they tell us their budgets are so thin.”
As a solution, Vector offers a “Shielda Guardian” program. Although the Vector is only for sale to law enforcement, private citizens and corporations can donate shields to the agency of their choice.
“We have departments that are very low budget, so we get people to sponsor shields and get them into the hands of law enforcement,” Mr. Scali said. “Right now, in patrol cars, they have nothing. Soft body armor will not stop a rifle round. There was an article that said in Chicago, the gangs are going to rifles, and the police have nothing to stop rifle rounds.
“We’re asking our police to go into dangerous situations but not giving them the tools to do it, and then when we have the tools, we’re fighting the budget. And that’s what’s crippling to me. We’ve never had a department say they don’t want this. My job as a Special Forces medic is to stay in the fight, to give them the tools to help them protect society from bad guys.”
“Shield a Guardian” Program
This program allows private citizens and corporations to donate Vector Ballistic Shields to the law enforcement agency of their choice.
For more information, visit www.vectorshields.com and click on the Shield a Guardian link or call (239) 281-8669.