Body Armor and Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement Officers are not a homogenous group and can be split along a number of lines. An Officer in the middle of large city may have a drastically different day to someone in a rural location. Even two Officers serving in the same place will find themselves in different situations to the other, particularly if they serve in different roles within the Police Service. However, the threat of violence and death remains, and this is why Officers need to be aware of the different types of body armor available to them, and which is best suited to the environments they will find themselves in.

Law Enforcement Officers don’t need to be told the importance of body armor. There were nearly 60,000 assaults a year on Officers over the last decade according to government statistics. Clearly it is vital to protect those who protect and serve. However, it is not just violence that Officers need to be protected from- just as deadly as knives and guns are transportation accidents. In 2013 49 law Enforcement Officers were killed accidentally while performing their duties, the majority of which were killed in automobile accidents. Many aren’t aware that a bullet proof vest will also provide some protection against brute force, and while body armor should not be considered an excuse for reckless driving, it can save and has saved lives.

Bullet Proof Vests

For nearly all Officers a bullet proof vest is ideal. Handguns make up the vast majority of weapons used in crime in the US, and a vest that utilises lightweight Kevlar plates is ideal to protect against these. However, just as deadly are knives and stabbing weapons like needles. Edged and spiked weapons are just as prevalent (if not more so) than guns, are much easier to conceal, but can be just as deadly. In close quarters in particular the threat of a knife may be much greater than the threat of a bullet. In these cases the option of stab/spike protection to be added to a bullet proof vest is a worthwhile investment. For Levels II-IIIa this is a very simple addition, and will provide protection against knives in addition to handguns.

These level vests are ideal for Patrol Officers for a number of reasons; not only do they protect against the most common handgun ammunition, but also against the most commonly used ammunition among Law Enforcement. It is vital that Officers choose body armor that is equipped to protect against the ammunition they use, as there is always the risk of having your weapon taken from you. In the last decade 33 Officers were murdered with their own weapon according to the FBI. Ensuring that you are protected against your own weapon is not just paranoia, and could save your life.

Covert Vests

For First Response Officers handgun protection is also ideal, though ease of movement and comfort is equally important. The difficulty for those serving in First Response is being protected against any threat but being able to respond to any situation. This is why a covert vest may be suitable as it can be worn underneath a uniform. These are often lighter and more flexible, allowing for better movement, and manufacturers often utilise technologies like CoolMax in body armor to provide temperature control for the wearer. The benefit of an overt style is that it can be designed with specific Law Enforcement Roles in mind, allowing for the logos and insignia of a department to be included on the vest. While this reaffirms in the public’s mind your role as Law Enforcement, same may feel that in a first response situation it is better to be as neutral as possible, and that wearing a visible and branded vest may be antagonising. In this case it may be better to opt for a covert vest to be worn under the existing uniform.

For Detectives or those serving undercover covert armor is particularly important. Any Law Enforcement Officer should be protected at all times, but for those who want to blend in with a crowd a covert bullet proof vest should be worn. Dangerous situations will always arise, and the ability to do the job properly should not be sacrificed for protection, nor the other way around. This is equally true for those in federal departments who are not expected to wear body armor, but may still find themselves in high risk situations. For these Officers there may also be a need for hard plate armor to be worn in the carrier (the vest itself which holds the bullet proof materials). Plates of ceramic, steel or titanium can be inserted into vests to offer protection against high caliber rifle rounds and even armor piercing rounds. These naturally add a great deal of weight and bulk to a vest however, so should only be worn when absolutely necessary.

High Risk Situations

For those who are guaranteed to find themselves in high risk situations full tactical gear is the only sensible option. This is of course designed with SWAT teams in mind. While covert styles are lighter and thinner, tactical gear eschews that for maximum protection, making it bulky and heavy and designed to be worn only for short periods of time. It will however protect against much higher caliber rounds, as well as explosions and fragmentation. Many manufacturers offer body armor designed specifically for SWAT teams, and provide additional protection for other areas of the body, including the neck and groin. These are vital areas that are not covered by other bullet proof vests. They will also come with the option of additional pouches to store equipment, better integration with standard uniform, and logos and insignia as standard. There is even increased development in creating CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) membranes for body armor, providing additional protection for high risk Law Enforcement Officers. These materials are already included in official Government Standards for body armor for first responders.

No Two Officers are the Same

There is already plenty of information available to Law Enforcement Officers on the different levels of body armor and how the materials involved work. However, Law Enforcement is often treated as one big group of identical Officers, which is not only completely wrong, but very insulting. The life of any individual Officer is completely different to another’s, as are the situations he or she will find themselves in. This is why it is important that Law Enforcement Officers are made aware of the wide range of body armor available to them so they can make an informed decision as to the correct bullet proof vest to wear depending on the role they fill.