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What Police Need to
Know About
Body Armor

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What Police Need to Know About Body
Armor
By Joshua Nash for SafeGuard Armor
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.
One of the difficulties in discussing body armor for
Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) is that no two
officers are the same. Not only are there a wide
variety of departments in the US Police Force, all
with different responsibilities and duties, but even
two LEOs working in the same role can have vastly
different experiences and face completely different
threats. However, all LEOs will have to deal with the
threat of attack, and injuries caused by violence
should be avoided and prevented wherever possible.

This is why body armor is so important for LEOs; it
is a simple method to keep officers safe and allow
them to perform confidently. However, just as there
is no such thing as ‘one Officer’, there is no such
thing as ‘one bullet proof vest’; indeed, body armor
refers to a variety of products, including but not
limited to bullet proof vests. Even these products
are available in different levels of protection and in
different styles. In order for officers to choose the
right protection and ensure they are protected
against the threats they will face, they have to
understand body armor and the range of protection
available to them.
Ballistic Protection

While body armor as a term incorporates a wide
range of products, bullet proof vests are the most
common examples, and for good reason. Every
Officer should be equipped with a bullet resistant
vest, and they should be considered the minimum
level of protection for all LEOs. However, as
discussed above, even bullet proof vests are
available in different levels. The lower levels are
capable of stopping certain handgun ammunitions,
and these are certainly worth protecting against;
handguns are the most common weapon used in
crime.

While it is important for Officers to protect
themselves against handguns, it is just as
important that they protect themselves against
their own weapon. Ensuring your bullet proof vest
can stop the ammunition used in your own weapon
is not just paranoia, as the last decade saw over 30
Officers murdered with their own weapon, to say
nothing of the number of non-fatal attacks. This
means that the level of protection your vest offers
must be enough to cover the ammunition you will
be using.

Ballistic testing is standardized by the US National
Institute of Justice, who set levels (NIJ Levels) that
outline the strength of body armor. For example, a
vest at Level IIIa can stop 9mm, .357, .40 S&W,
and even .44 Magnum rounds. It is vital that your
armor meets these standards, as otherwise
protection cannot be guaranteed.
Additional Protection

For some branches of Law Enforcement, a Kevlar
vest will not suffice. Kevlar is common to most
bullet proof vests, and is incredibly strong while
remaining lightweight and flexible. However, these
can only offer protection to a certain extent. For
SWAT teams, for example, the threat of attack
from high-powered weaponry is far higher, and
protection against rifles and automatics is vital.
Therefore, while a Kevlar vest can still be employed,
it will need rigid plates made from Ceramics and/or
Polyethylene that can be inserted into a vest.

These rigid plates are capable of stopping even
armor-piercing rounds, and are still relatively
lightweight. Nevertheless, they will increase the
weight and bulk of any protective clothing and so
are only recommended for those who really need
them. However, for those who do need complete
protection, they are invaluable. When used in a
tactical vest they can be complemented by
additional protection for the neck, throat, upper
arms, and groin.

On the other hand, even Patrol Officers and those
working the streets may need additional protection,
though not against high-caliber weaponry. There
are situations where firearms will either not be the
most dangerous weapon, or simply won’t be
available. Nevertheless, weapons like knives, broken
bottles, and needles can be just as deadly as guns,
and are far more accessible. In close quarters in
particular the threat from edged or spiked weapons
will be far higher.

Kevlar vests cannot protect against edged and
spiked weapons by themselves, and will need
additional materials. This is because while the soft
fabric is incredibly strong, it can still be cut by
edged weapons like knives. Similarly, spiked
weapons like needles pass through the fabric,
rendering it useless. Stab and spike proof vests will
therefore still use Kevlar to offer protection against
impacts, but with additional chainmail and/or
laminate to protect the fabric and stop
edged and
spiked weapons respectively.
Covert and Overt Vests

There will also be different requirements for the
style of vest as well, depending on the Officer. While
First Responders and Armed Response Units for
example will need overt armor to help establish their
authority, Officers working undercover or discreet
environments may wish to hide their protective
clothing. They cannot be expected to work without
protection, and so a covert vest worn under
clothing provides the best of both worlds.

Covert vests have the advantage of providing the
same levels of protection, but in a discreet style.
Many covert vests are designed to offer a full range
of movement, and some even use unique materials
to help keep the wearer cool. Of course, for those
who need an overt vest, they will still have the full
range of movement afforded by a covert vest, but
with the added benefits of customization. For
example, an overt vest can be outfitted with high-
visibility covers, logos and insignia, as well as
pouches for additional equipment. All this can make
an overt vest a useful part of an Officer’s uniform.
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