The Levels and Types of Armor Available for Officers
by Chris Taylor, SafeGuard Armor
Officers are required to fulfill a wide range of roles and responsibilities working in law. These responsibilities can vary greatly from situation to situation and from location to location. For example, officers working in rural locations will face greatly different challenges and threats compared to an officer working in an urban location, or even working in a different rural location. Nevertheless, any threat facing a law enforcement officer can potentially be a serious one, and keeping our officers protected is of the utmost importance. Violence and injury may never be removed from an officer’s line of work, but protection is available, and body armor is a useful method of doing so.
However, there are a wide range of body armors available, all with their advantages and disadvantages. For example, body armor is available in different styles depending on the situation, and in various protection levels depending on the threats they can protect against. Understanding the options available is important for Officers to choose the protective option most suitable for their work.
Officers will already be well aware of the importance of body armor, as the last year saw nearly 60,000 assaults on Officers according to Government statistics. It is imperative that those brave men and women charged with protecting and serving our communities are protected against attacks, and yet it is not only violence that can cause serious injury and even death to Officers. In 2013 49 law enforcement officers were killed accidentally, with the majority of these deaths occurring in automobile accidents. Most do not realize that bullet proof vests can provide some protection against impact trauma, meaning that even in a car crash body armor can save an Officer’s life.
Different Threat Protection
A bullet proof vest is the most important piece of equipment for officers, purely because they are so easy to wear and the threat from firearms is so high. Handguns are the most common weapon used in crime in the US, and a bullet proof vest is a lightweight and flexible method of protecting against these weapons. Of course, there may be situations where firearms are not the most serious threat, and weapons like knives, needles and screwdrivers can be just as deadly as a handgun. Edged and spiked weapons are certainly much more accessible and far easier to conceal, and a bullet proof vest is incapable of protecting against them.
The materials used in bullet proof armors, such as Kevlar, are lightweight yet incredibly strong, and can absorb and disperse large amounts of energy. This is what makes them so protective, and yet edged weapons like a knife will simply cut through the fabric. Similarly, spiked weapons can pass through the minute gaps between the fibers, again rendering the vest useless. For protection against these weapons a stab or spike proof vest is needed, which will use additional layers of either laminate or chainmail.
Of course, ballistic protection is still necessary for all officers, though it is important that it is at the right level. Ballistic protection is tested and graded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and vests are given levels according to the size and strength of ammunition it can protect against. For example, a vest at NIJ level IIIa can protect against the vast majority of ammunition used in handguns. This is likely to be the right level of protection for most officers, but it is important that they have armor that can protect against their own ammunition. According to the FBI the last decade saw 33 Officers murdered with their own weapon, and so it is vital that bullet proof vests can protect against the ammunition used by the Officer.
Different Styles of Armor
Just as important as wearing the right level of protection is getting the vest in the right style. For many officers body armor forms an important part of a uniform, and is a useful way of displaying their authority. These vests are called ‘overt’, as they are worn over clothing. Overt vests have the advantage of being customizable with pockets and pouches, additional protection for the groin or neck for example, and even logos and insignia that can make it an official part of any uniform. For uniformed officers for example, displaying your authority through the use of overt armor is incredibly useful.
On the other hand, there are those in law enforcement who will not require an overt vest; for example, Detectives or even undercover officers will wish to stay protected, but naturally cannot display their armor. Indeed, even some uniformed officers will not wish to display their armor, perhaps if they are serving in a close-knit community where the sight of a bullet proof vest can increase hostility. For these officers a covert vest is ideal, as it offers protection at any level while being worn underneath clothing, maintaining discretion. These covert vests have the advantage of allowing greater freedom of movement, and can even accommodate rigid plates designed to stop high caliber ammunition.
High caliber ammunition may be a threat for a number of officers, but none more so than those working in SWAT teams for example. For this branch of the oolice, tactical armor is the only option. These bullet proof vests provide complete protection for the most dangerous environments by using rigid plates at high levels in comfortable and durable carriers. Tactical armor is also available with additional protection for the upper arm, neck, throat, and groin, making it a complete protective option. It can also be augmented just like any overt vest, and there is even development in progress for tactical armor that can protect against CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) attacks, which is very useful as Officers are increasingly called to dangerous environments like collapsed buildings or explosions. For Officers that will be facing extreme threats and need protection from everything from handguns to even armor-piercing ammunition, tactical armor is a versatile and tough solution.