Picking the Right
Bullet Proof Vest
Picking the Right Bullet Proof Vest
By Joshua Nash for SafeGuard Armor
Why do you need a Bullet Proof Vest?

The proper protection is vital for Law Enforcement
Officers to safely and confidently carry out their job.
From 2009 to 2015,
552 officers lost their lives as a
result of firearms or cutting weapons. Whilst this
number has decreased year on year the threat to
police officers always remains. Statistics show that
69.5% of all homicides in the US were caused by
firearms in 2013. Nevertheless, protection is
available in the form of bullet proof vests, and is not
only recommended but actively encouraged for
Officers; a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
study on protection provided by body armor has
shown that the risk of fatality for officers assaulted
with a firearm while not wearing body armor is 14
times higher than for officers wearing body armor.
Clearly the threat of firearms remains for any Law
Enforcement Officer, and as such the necessity of
body armor, specifically a bullet proof vest.
Different Types of Protection

It is vital when choosing the correct body armor
that it adheres to the National Institute of Justice’s
(NIJ) standards, which grades body armor in terms
of the protection it offers. The NIJ is considered the
world leader in ballistic testing for bullet proof vests,
and outlines which threats each piece of armor will
provide protection for, as well as the strength of
the attack. While considering which piece of body
armor will be appropriate for the threats faced, it is
also important to remember that this will affect the
weight of the vest and will therefore restrict
movement and mobility. For example,  an NIJ Level
II bulletproof vest provides protection against
regular powered 9mm handguns and upto .357
magnums, whereas an NIJ Level IIIa vest will offer
the same protection as a Level II vest, while also
offering protection up to a .44 magnum and 9mm
Sub-Machine gun. This extra protection comes at
the cost of mobility and weight, as the extra panels
/ layers make the armor heavier and bulkier.
Hard Armor

It may be necessary for certain Officers to wear
higher grade body armor, particularly if the threats
include higher calibre weapons such as rifle rounds,
or armor piercing rounds. NIJ Level III and Level IV
offer this protection respectively in the form of hard
armor plates. Whilst these are usually designed to
work in conjunction with the Level IIIa vests (as
discussed above), they will naturally add a great
deal of weight, and so should only be used for high
risk situations. Some manufacturers also offer
armor that protects against fragmentation and
shrapnel, which will provide extensive protection
and support in high risk situations. These heavier
‘hard’ bullet proof vests will likely be unnecessary
for most Officers, particularly for new recruits to the
police service. As this article has shown, it is smaller
firearms like handguns that will make up most of
the threats an Officer will face. As such, it is likely
that an NIJ Level II or IIIa vest will provide the
protection Officers needs, without restricting
movement. A Law Enforcement Officer is more and
more likely to find him or herself in a fast-paced and
reactive environment where movement and reflexes
are just as important as protection from threats.
This is where the bullet proof vests that protect
against 9mm and .357s for example are of most
benefit to an Officer, as they provide protection
against the threats they will likely face without
hindering their ability to serve and protect.
Wearing Your Vest

It is most likely that the armor an Officer wears will
be overt, in that it will be worn over a uniform with
no need to be hidden. This is not only all a new
recruit requires, but it will also act as a deterrent to
any potential threat. However, the situation may
arise where covert body armor is required, perhaps
when serving undercover. Again, protection is
graded along the standards set out by the NIJ, but
can be much more flexible and breathable, allowing
the wearer to act normally and further conceal the
armor from others. It is also possible that the
modern Law Enforcement Officer will face threats
other than firearms, which a bullet proof vest is not
designed to protect against. Whilst some
manufacturers offer ‘multi-threat’ body armor, it is
generally only the outlined threats that they will
protect against. For example, although firearms
were responsible for a great deal of deaths among
Law Enforcement Officers over the last decade,
stabbing and cutting weapons also caused a
number of fatalities among Officers and remain a
threat. It is possible that in certain situations these
weapons will prove more of a threat than firearms,
particularly where the Officer is in especially close
contact with the public, or where a stabbing or
cutting weapon can be more easily concealed by a
criminal. In these cases a stab/spike proof vest
would be the better choice for an Officer, and the
same guidelines as above are in place. The UK Home
Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) are
the leading experts in stab and spike testing for
body armor, using blades much stronger than the
type usually faced on the streets. As such, it is
important when selecting the correct body armor to
once again ensure it meets these standards.
Things to Remember

It is a dangerous and difficult job the Law
Enforcement Officer faces in order to protect and
serve our communities, but there is protection
available against the threats faced daily. It is likely
that a bullet proof vest is the ideal armor for an
Officer, and this may come in a covert or overt
choice with the option of additional protection in the
form of added plates. However, it may be that there
is a greater threat from cutting and stabbing
weapons, in which case a stab or spike proof vest
will be needed. Whatever the threat, it is vital for
the protection of our Officers that these vests meet
the required standards from the NIJ and HOSDB,
that they are properly maintained and cared for, but
most importantly that they are worn. Whilst there is
no such thing as complete protection, particularly
against firearms, a bullet proof vest is crucial in
minimizing the threat and reducing the number of
deaths among Officers.
Josh has written a number of articles as part of
SafeGuard Armor. He uses his expert knowledge of
body armor to write informative pieces for many
different industries.
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Copyright © 2018  Barry M. Baker  

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