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Complete Guide to Police Body Armor and Protective Gear

Complete Guide to Police Body Armor and Protective Gear

Policemen are deployed to all types of environments including possibly hostile ones, constantly putting their lives on the line. In such a dangerous lines of work, it is imperative to protect yourself in every way possible to ensure you return home to your family every night. This requires being prepared with the proper equipment and body armor so you can fulfill your duties safely and efficiently. There are many varieties of bullet proof vests and other protective gear that suit a large number of needs as well as budgets.

When selecting your equipment, it is important for you as an officer to understand the details of what you bring with you into the field. Not all police departments have the resources or availability for the gear that would best suit you and your personal safety is too important to settle for less. For your protective gear specifically, it is imperative to know what exactly you will be protected against and to what level of effectiveness they possess. Here are some things to keep in mind as you consider your next investment.

Assessing Your Risk Potential

Based on the area of your PD's jurisdiction and the type of people you come into contact with on a daily basis, the first thing is to assess the possible threats that you could face. Aside from specialized gear for very specific situations, your day to day gear should be enough to protect you from any potential threat that you could face, but also not be detrimental to your mobility or cause you to unnecessarily go over your budget. 

What Protection Level Do You Need

After determining what possible threats you may face, you can properly assess any equipment you come across and determine whether or not it will be a worthwhile investment. When looking at protective vests there are a number of factors to consider. Primarily the first thing you will look for is the vest’s protection level. These levels are set by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and range from Level I, which protects the wearer from the most basic of small caliber rounds, through levels III and IV, the highest levels of protection short of specialized armor which protects from high caliber rounds and armor piercing rounds.

Generally Level I is not considered as fulfilling NIJ standards and is not very effective in most expected situations. Levels II through IIIA are designed to be effective against small caliber rounds, the higher levels being more effective at higher velocities and at closer range. Vests of these levels are typically composed of soft armor plate consisting of kevlar or other soft materials. Vests at Levels III and IV are additionally effective against larger rounds from firearms such as assault rifles or marksman rifles. They can be composed of either soft or hard armor plates. For more detailed information on NIJ’s standards and what types of rounds at what velocities each level is effective against, you can read our more in depth article here or visit the NIJ’s Website here.

You will also want to consider whether you need a body vest or plate carrier. They both have distinctive advantages that you should look for. Depending on the situations you are involved in, law enforcement usually use body vests which are easier to move in, fit under uniforms with minimal issue but also do not provide as much protection as larger vests. Plate carriers have slots for various plates allowing you to change your level of protection when necessary. They can be more bulky and more difficult to move in sometimes, but overall they provide more complete protection and allow for various attachments and other features. 

Other Features To Look For

Based on the level of protection that you decide is adequate, the other criteria for the gear you need will start to fall into place. You will want to look for a number of features in vests that will become extremely helpful in performing your daily duties. The most important of these features is comfort. Do not use a vest that is not comfortable as you will be wearing it for a majority of if not for the entire day. It also needs to allow you to utilize your entire range of motion and also not be overly heavy for instances where you are required to run, move over obstacles, or engage in close quarters combat.

Other features which are not as vital but can prove useful can also become deciding factors in that particular vest that you’ve been eyeing. Adjustable fits are always welcome as the other gear you carry or whatever else you may be wearing can change. Most vests come with MOLLE systems, a series of velcro straps, that allow you to attach a wide variety of other gear that you need to carry such as first aid materials, firearm or ammo pouches, and other specialized gear. One particular feature that is often overlooked is the quick release system, which allows you to quickly remove the vest in an emergency situation. In the event your vest gets caught on something potentially dangerous such as a moving car, which will hopefully never happen in your career, the quick release system can become the difference between life and death.

The Bottom Line

The last influencing factor in your gear of choice is usually budget. If you've found a vest at the right protection level and has most if not all of the features that you're looking for, the price will usually be worth the investment. There is nothing worth more than your life and the ability to return home at the end of your shift. Whether you're looking for a concealed vest or a plate carrier, you can try communicating with your police department and seeing if they have gear that you may be looking for or if there are any programs available to help you procure the gear you need.