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Picking the Right
Bullet Proof Vest

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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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