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
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

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

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

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
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Copyright © 2017  Barry M. Baker