U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of JusticeThe Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice

NIJ Body Armor Video for Purchasers

Officer: "Board of dispatch, I've got a traffic stop at the Exxon off of Washington Ave. I've got a lot of movement in the vehicle, go ahead and send me a nearby unit for backup."

[Officer stops a motorist on a dark street. Officer radios dispatch then exits vehicle and approaches car. Drive of vehicle looks agitated and reaches for firearm in the glove box before officer gets to the window.]

[Drive hands over license as officer is studying the I.D., the driver pulls a pistol and fires. Officer goes down.]

Narrator: Law enforcement. A dangerous, and at times … deadly occupation.

As the person responsible for purchasing body armor for your agency, it is up to you to make the choices that will impact the budget of your department and the safety of the officers serving within it. Body armor is a life-saving tool, and to be effective, it must be worn regularly and be up to the level of street threat that your officers will face. Body armor types and manufacturers are many, and choosing the correct type is critical to your agency.

In response to the growing number of officer deaths due to firearms, the National Institute of Justice, and The office of Law Enforcement Standards began the joint mission of developing body armor comfortable enough to be worn full-time, yet tough enough to resist the deadly force of bullet impact.

NIJ Standard-0101.06 has been revised to include new armor classifications, rigorous testing methods, and a new conditioning protocol. NIJ’s Compliance Testing Program ensures that all body armor meets these new standards.

Officer Nick Roberts: The rule of thumb for law enforcement and departments is that you buy armor to match what the officer carries, because statistically we know that officers have had their own guns used against them. So, depending on what they're purchasing for, I have no doubt that today's NIJ 06 armor would go out and protect our men and women that are protecting the streets of America today.

Narrator: There is no bullet-proof body armor, only levels of bullet resistance. Choosing the right armor for the right job is crucial.

Statistics show that the most common threats faced by officers are the 9 mm semi-automatic street pistol, and their very own service weapon. An agency’s armor should, at a minimum, protect against both of these threats.

There are three classes of flexible body armor designed to protect against handgun threats, and two classes of armor for tactical operations facing rifle threats.

Type II-A. armor protects against lower velocity 9mm full metal jacketed handgun rounds and Smith and Wesson .40 caliber full metal jacketed handgun rounds. It is concealable, and suitable for full-time use.

Type II armor protects against higher velocity 9mm full metal jacketed handgun rounds and .357 Magnum jacketed soft point handgun rounds. While heavier and more bulky than Type II-A, it is also concealable and is designed for full time use.

Type III-A armor protects against .357 Sig full metal jacketed handgun rounds and .44 Magnum jacketed hollow points. It represents the highest level of protection currently available from concealable body armor, and provides protection against most handgun threats. While generally suitable for routine wear, departments located in hot, humid climates may need to evaluate the use of Type III-A armor carefully.

Type III armor protects against 7.62mm full metal jacketed rifle rounds (U.S. Military designation M80) and represents the first tier of tactical armor. As such, it is not intended for full time use and is designed strictly for tactical situations, such as confrontations involving sporting rifles.

Type IV armor protects against .30 caliber armor piercing rifle rounds (U.S. Military designation M2 AP), and provides the highest level of protection currently available. Because it is intended to resist "armor piercing" rounds, it often uses ceramic materials, which are brittle, and may provide only single-shot protection. As with Type III armor, Type IV is intended only for tactical situations when the threat warrants such protection.

NIJ Standard-0101.06 also defines a category of special threats. The NIJ Compliance Testing Program does not include testing for these special threats; however, an agency requiring a level of protection other than one of the five standard levels may specify additional testing, referencing the exact test rounds and impact velocities to be used.

Departments should select body armor equal to their ballistic protection requirements, ensuring that each officer understands the maximum protection offered by the armor, as well as its limitations.

Avoid purchasing armor with ratings greater than realistically needed. This not only increases cost, but also the likelihood that the armor won’t be worn on a regular basis. The weight and bulk of armor are proportional to the level of protection provided. If possible, use armor samples on a trial basis before making a major purchase.

Officer John Abraham: I recommend you go to the company, investigate their facilities, find out how they operate. I would go onto the NIJ website, and I would check all past and current test protocols, and I would make sure that you have a follow up routine with the company that is selling your body armor to you, so that you know that if a vest happens to fail down the line that they're going to come to you and they're going to tell you that that vest has failed and replace it immediately.

Rob Kinsler: Manufacturers make all kinds of claims. I would definitely go to the NIJ and check on their list of approved body armors, because then you know that an impartial lab has tested these body armors through all the different environmental conditions, all different projectiles...they go to an independent laboratory which does the testing in a standardized procedure, so it doesn't matter which laboratory you go to, you will get the same results, and know you know for a fact that that body armor does protect against what it says it can protect against.

Narrator: Once your department’s needs are determined, begin reviewing specific products.

A listing of armor models that have been tested through the NIJ’s Compliance Testing Program is available as grant funding for agencies needing to purchase body armor through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership. To learn more, visit www.justnet.org.

Officer Nick Roberts: That grant has afforded over 400 of my officers, my sheriffs department, armor. They get fifty percent back...all the department has to do is apply for the funds. So, if an officer pays fifty percent, that fifty percent can send him back home to his wife and children...to his son...his daughter...so his mom and dad can see him again.

Narrator: When selecting an armor type for purchase, consider these factors:

Remember that a manufacturer’s warranty is not a benchmark for service life, it merely limits a manufacturer’s liability on the product to a period of time.

If the armor is to be worn under a uniform, consider concealable body armor. Keep in mind that fit for male and female officers will differ.

Tactical armor is not regular duty armor, and is designed to be worn only when a heightened threat level is expected. Tactical armor is not typically designed with the gender in mind.

Consider ballistic-stab combination armor if a product is found that meets comfort and cost-efficiency needs.

If protection  is needed beyond the capability of the selected armor, consider buying hard armor or trauma plates.

Purchasing body armor is a big responsibility, requiring research and due diligence. Further information about the procurement process can be obtained by writing to the e-mail address on your screen. Always remember that the resources of your agency, and the well-being of your officers depend on your decisions. If you follow the guidelines suggested and use the resources outlined, you'll be equipped with the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision for your department.

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When it comes to saving an officer's life, nobody can hold back. NIJ's National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center has created a video that can help procurement officials find the right vest for the right officer.

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Date created: March 22, 2011