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 — Wear Your Armor!

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: As a law enforcement officer, it's recognized that you frequently face serious, and sometimes dangerous, situations. Over the years, firearms have traditionally been one of the most common causes of officer deaths.

By a ratio of 4 to 1 the handgun stakes its' place as enemy number one.

Ed Limbacher (survivor): Immediately the gun battle began. The first shot, I thought it hit the van. I saw a spark out of my right eye.it had actually entered a clean through and through on my right arm. At that time I brought my weapon up and was in the process of pulling the trigger when I got hit again. And it entered my chest just below my right side here.

Ed Hinchey (survivor): The next round hit the door, tumbled and engaged my body armor. I could feel that, knew it wasn't hot, didn't bother me as much. Then I felt a really strong impact right on my ribcage. It was the 3rd round, a direct hit, right on the edge of my ribs which surgeons told me would have been lethal, would have cored me and taken out both my lungs and my heart.

Narrator: In the early 1970's, the National Institute of Justice and The office of Law Enforcement Standards began a joint mission: To develop body armor comfortable enough to be worn full-time, yet tough enough to resist the deadly force of bullet impact.

The NIJ has earned world-wide respect for its body armor testing and approval process. Their reputation for high quality standards has resulted in widespread use of body armor by law enforcement officers, and is credited with saving more than 3,000 officers' lives.

Ed Hinchey: The NIJ has truly set the standard and forced manufacturers to build better body armor.They took a look at armor conditioning across the country. They took a look at the profiles of the officers that were wearing them, and they came out with an entirely new standard to address what the officers in the field were seeing as issues, and they did a fantastic job.

Linda Hammond-Deckard: Those standards ensure body armor manufacturers that the vests that they're producing meet the standards and provide the maximum protection.

Lt. Debbie Ferrar: Well I'm confident because I know there has been a testing procedure. I'm confident because I know the labs have taken samples and have actually done tests that the bullets don't penetrate at a certain caliber level, and they list those caliber levels on the standards.so the fact that there has been independent labs that are doing studies and actually have shot at the vests give me that confidence that it will stop when I am shot at.

While 100-percent protection is impossible to achieve, the routine use of body armor significantly reduces the chance of fatal injury.

Ed Hinchey: This isn't something that someone gives you a heads up...Hey you're going to a shooting, you better put your armor on. It's gotta be on because it happens like that.

Detective Marlene Tully: The morning had been a regular morning. I handled a bus accident with no children on board, and then the next call I got was for a man beating a woman. As I responded down there, two other units were coming to assist me...and I got to a gas station on Madatach Blvd. on Sunrise Highway in Bayshore. When I went to the call, there was nobody fighting, and I saw two women sitting in a car by the mini-market.

I went to approach them, and a man came around the corner. As he came around the corner, I said to him everything is alright...I'll be with you in a minute.

"Sir, I'll be with you in a minute".

He cups his hand up to his ear, and he acted as if he couldn't hear me.

"Sir, I'll be with you in a minute". "What?" "Sir, I said I'll be with you in a minute."

By that time he closed the space between me and him. He kept beating on me, and he actually started pulling on my gun. I realized that if my gun came out of its holster that I was in a fight for my life. My keepers on my belt gave, and the gun was now on my stomach. I tried to retain the weapon, and with that the holster gave. He stood over me. He said to me I'm going to f***ing kill you, and he pulled the trigger.

I got into the mini-market and I had my hand on my mace and I was on the phone. I told the dispatcher again that it was a 10-1 and that he had my gun. I went behind the counter, I was told, and I covered over the woman. I remember thinking to myself kill me first. If anybody is going to die today, it's gonna be from my weapon. I need to be the first. There was a barrage of gunfire, and then it went silent.

I was transported to the hospital where the doctor would look for the bullet underneath my skin, and I told him look in the vest in the back of the car that transported me, and sure enough, there was the bullet.

Narrator: When a firearm discharges, its projectile quickly goes supersonic.when it hits an unprotected torso, life-threatening injuries are certain. However, when the projectile strikes a torso protected by body armor, the survivability rate greatly increases — as much as 14 times, according to an FBI study.

Ed Hinchey: The big difference between myself and the guy I was engaged with that night...He had training. He had the same gun I had, he had the same weight round I had...he had a corebond, I had a federal. He was closer and got the drop on me. I had armor. He didn't. I'm here. He's not. Without this, I know the likelihood is far greater that you don't survive that critical incident.

The key to body armor lies in its web of strong, interwoven fibers which reduce the impact of the bullet by absorbing and dispersing its energy. The bullet flattens as it meets resistance from the fiber layers, which absorb the force, stop the momentum, and prevent penetration. To be NIJ compliant, armor must demonstrate bullet resistance without excessive blunt force trauma.

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

The most widely used is concealable. Concealable armor is relatively comfortable, lightweight, non-restrictive, and available in a variety of designs. It typically protects against small-caliber handguns.

Tactical armor may consist of somewhat flexible material containing strong, interwoven fabrics, reinforced with steel, ceramic, or plastic to maintain some flexibility, or else it can be composed of molded ballistic material, making it the most restrictive to body movement, and difficult to conceal. Tactical armor is only used for short periods against higher threat levels, including rifle ammunition. It is vitally important to know if it offers single or multi-hit protection.

Ed Limbacher: I can't recommend enough that everybody wear at least some type of armor...even if you feel it's uncomfortable, you don't like it because you're hot, you sweat...I've been there, I've done that...I can't recommend enough that you wear it.

Narrator: Some officers refuse to wear armor, citing its bulk and added weight. But a little discomfort is a very small price to pay for surviving a potentially lethal encounter.

Officer Ray Johnson (1st recorded survivor): I was assigned on the Seattle Police Department as a patrol officer, and this store...a grocery store in a high crime area...was going to have its insurance cancelled because they had been robbed so many times. So I walked the beat in that area, and when I came to the store that night, I had my lunchbox, and I would always buy a little carton of milk to go with my lunch. And I was standing in the checkout line waiting to buy my milk The box boy, Mike Allen, had said, Ray, we're being stuck up. So I looked up, and I saw this ski-masked robber...wore a ski mask...had a gun pointed out to the teller...to the cashier...I want your money and put it in a brown paper bag.

He put his gun to my chest...touching my chest. I said hey you can't do that. I had a safety holster, you just can't take the gun out its got to come out a special way...and I'm watching him and now the gun is pointing that way, well when I was out of the line of fire I grabbed his wrist and the gun and the fight was on.

And he had shot me like this...bang. And then, he changed his hand, put the gun in the other hand and shot me...bang...again. I went and charged for him and I ended up on the bottom and he ended up on my chest, and he's got one more round that he's trying to put in my head. I'm losing the battle here and I decided to move my head, so I move my head and he shoots me one last time. So the bullet went through...out and I thought that I was hit in the head and was going to die. So I reached up and I grabbed his ski mask, and I pulled the ski mask off, and he turned his head and got up and went running out of the store and escaped.

So when I went into the hospital, they put me in a hallway, and all of the gossip started. Hey there's a policeman that just got shot. But he's not dead, he's wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Narrator: To be effective, body armor must maximize coverage without hindering movement, and it must fit properly.

Concealable and tactical vests should be snug, yet comfortable, as major gaps between the vest and body could expose an officer to bullet penetration. Whenever possible, departments should custom fit the armor to the individual officer. Trained personnel from manufacturers can assist with proper fitting for optimal protection.

Trae Lewis: The body armor that I currently have and that was originally issued to me was custom fitted. I was measured and fitted for the body armor. It's a completion of my uniform. Just as my belt, my socks, having my weapon, having my radio...if I have it with me I have a better chance of surviving anything, whether it be a gunshot, knife stabbing, or an accident.

Narrator: Body armor has four major areas of coverage: The front, back, sides, and under the arms. Officers should check that these four areas achieve proper fit and coverage.

Confirm from the standing position that the bottom of the concealable vest is 2 or 3 finger widths above the top of the duty belt. The bottom of the tactical vest should be even with the bottom of the duty belt. The top of each vest should be at the second button of the uniform shirt.

Typically, officers leave the shoulder straps attached on concealable and tactical vests, slipping the vest over their heads and onto their shoulders. Once in place, the sides of the vest are secured.

The sides are one of the most vulnerable points of the vest, especially if they are not properly fitted. The front armor panel must overlap the back to ensure maximum protection against near-edge shots.

If the back panel incorrectly overlaps the front, the bullet could enter between the panels and cause injury. Coverage under the arms should be as high as possible without hindering movement.

Female officers need maximum coverage around the bust area on both sides. Comfort for the female officer depends on customization. Some manufacturers design vests with staggered and overlapping darts to create bust cups. This feature requires that stitch-lines be tested for vulnerability.

Each time body armor is used, it should be inspected for signs of wear or exposed ballistic material. If this is found, the vest should be returned to the manufacturer for replacement. Never attempt to repair armor yourself.

The most important part of your armor is the actual panel itself. The first thing you want to look for is the seam. Inspect the entire seam area to make sure you haven't worked through it...it hasn't worn against your equipment, your duty belt and created a gap or a tear that would allow moisture or other contaminants into the actual ballistic material. This cover is designed to stay sealed for the five year life cycle. If that seal is broken, whether it be through an incident, a scuffle with a bad guy, chasing somebody, an automobile accident...if this panel gets torn, it needs to be replaced. It needs to go back to the manufacturer and this needs to be inspected and then re-covered

Every model of body armor should come with cleaning instructions. Proper cleaning and maintenance is vital to its effectiveness. Departments and agencies should train officers in correct cleaning procedures.

Some removable barriers may be machine washed or dried, but panels and inserts should not be. Most armor uses water-repellent fabrics, making hand washing possible.

Ed Hinchey: For the panels themselves, a warm solution, just a touch of soap, whether it be hand soap, dishwashing liquid, just a very light touch...one drop, warm, wipe the panel itself down. Immediately dry it off with a dry cloth...let it air dry flat. Never ever put your panels into a washer or dryer.

Narrator: Officers should watch for soap build-up, which can absorb water and reduce the efficiency of certain ballistic-resistant fabrics.

For more than 30 years, the National Institute of Justice has remained dedicated to the safety of our nation's law enforcement officers. Through research, testing, and national performance standards programs, the NIJ continues to improve the protection and comfort of today's body armor, while paving the way for tomorrow's most advanced armor.

Ed Limbacher: The best thing I can say about wearing the vest, the best reason I can give someone that has every reason in the book not to wear it is...when you're gonna be on the unfortunate instance that you wind up like me and you get shot...when you're lying in that hospital bed, and you gotta tell your seven year old why you're there...you don't want to explain to them that hey, if I was wearing a vest, I may be home with you today. I don't want to have to explain that to him.

Marlene Tully: Had I not been wearing my vest that day, I would not have survived. I know that for a fact. I have a scar over my heart from the incident, and I know that had that vest not been on, I would be dead.

Ed Hinchey: There's officers...over three thousand of them...that can say the same thing. I had my armor on when I needed it.

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Law Enforcement officers need proper equipment when they go to work. NIJ and National Law Enforcement Technology Center work together to ensure that body armor standards help officers do their jobs. A new video is available for officers.

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Date created: March 22, 2011