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How to Buy a Ballistic Vest

Finding the right body armor is often a personal endeavor, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

March 01, 2006  |  by - Also by this author

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

The National Institute of Justice has developed and regularly revises performance standards for armor vests. Compliance labels indicating the NIJ rating should be found on your armor. Most covert vests are rated to NIJ IIIA standards, but can be upgraded for specific circumstances with small strike plates. Overt and tactical vests are normally capable of having full size strike plates inserted both front and rear, either permanently or for specific threats. Vests are sometimes referred to by acronyms: OTV, or outer tactical vest, and BRV, bullet-resistant vest.

As stated in the article, "How to Select Body Armor" at, "If all you can afford is Level II-A, yes, you might be missing a few percent of the more unusual ammunition threats. But in the big picture wearing your vest 100 percent of the time is much more important. If you simply feel better knowing you have a III-A (the maximum in soft body armor) we can’t argue with peace of mind." Click here to read the entire article.

Proper care of body armor is important to maintaining its effectiveness. The recommended replacement time for most vests is five years. Smaller agencies may not make vests available for officers in the first place, unless they’re hand-me-downs. Other agencies may offer vouchers, but expect officers to make up the financial difference for higher end selections and tailoring.

Investments in Officer Protection

Vest acquisition isn’t cheap, but it isn’t impossible, either. Smaller agencies and non-profit police organizations have been successful in raising monies toward purchasing vests. And for those who know where to look, federal assistance is also available.

On the local front, the Douglas County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department’s advisory council and local homeowners association raised funds to purchase 17 state-of-the-art bullet-resistant tactical vests to replace the vests used by the department’s SWAT team. The homeowners association donation was a gesture of thanks to the department for capturing an auto theft suspect in the neighborhood. In Houston, Texas, the 100 Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to support law enforcement officers, has been donating vests and other specialized equipment since 1977.

Smaller police departments have profited through their associations with the United States Municipal Police Association (USMPA), which has donated ballistic vests to police agencies such as the Lone Star (Texas) Police Department, the Norwegian Township and Newcastle (Penn.) Police Departments, the Hortonville (Wis.) Police Department, the Pendleton (S.C.) Police Department, and many others.

The Operation “Protect Our Protectors” program is designed to donate ballistic vests to law enforcement agencies within the state of Georgia, specifically to those agencies that cannot afford to purchase vests on their own. Since the inception of the program, the group has donated almost 500 vests to 72 agencies throughout the state.

Perhaps the most well known ballistic vest offering is the Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) Grant Act of 1998. This federal program, administered by the Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance, helps state and local governments equip their law enforcement officers with armor vests by paying up to 50 percent of the cost of NIJ-approved vests. Since 1999, more than 11,500 jurisdictions have participated in the BVP Program, with $118 million in federal funds committed to support the purchase of an estimated 450,000 vests.

It is the responsibility of municipalities and employing agencies to coordinate with the federal government the purchases of vests. Unfortunately, sometimes good intentions don’t translate well. An employee with the Bureau of Justice Assistance notes, “They will receive a grant for the money but don’t realize that the money will be given them on the back end —- upon their having forwarded copies of the receipts for the vests they’ve purchased. But either they don’t purchase the vests, or forget to send in the receipts—and don’t receive the promised funds.” The problem is multifold, for not only does the original agency forego utilizing the money, but it sits for four years before becoming available for future grants, thereby depriving other agencies of its usefulness.

While the Zylon fiasco and its attendant impact logjammed the program, it is anticipated that new filing dates will be available for 2006.

Another federal program, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 2000, provides funding priority for smaller jurisdictions with populations under 100,000. Larger jurisdictions may also receive funding after annual funding allocated to smaller departments.

Wear it Well

Celluloid cops rarely wear vests, or other forms of protection. They stand in front of doors and get shot. Ever see Magnum Force or 48 Hours? Real-life cops know better. Hopefully, they’ll also know how to make the most of the opportunities available to them in choosing the most appropriate ballistic vests.

One important point to keep in mind is that body armor is not bullet proof. It is tested to stop particular ammunition depending on its rating, but does not make an officer invincible. Your training and experience are your best defense during an armed confrontation. And finally, the best armor in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you’re not wearing it when you need it.

That way, the only thing that’ll get through the vest to your heart is the smile of a small child saying, “Thank you!”


Body Armor Resources

American Body Armor online at

ArmorShieldUSA online at

DiamondBack Tactical online at

First Choice Armor online at

Gator Hawk Armor online at

MSA (Mine Safety Appliances) online at

Point Blank online at

Protective Products International online at

PT Armor online at

Safariland online at

Second Chance Body Armor online at

U.S. Armor online at


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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Barbara Flournoy @ 11/7/2014 5:36 PM

This bullet proof vest is what I'm looking for. Its for my friend birthday/Christmas gift. Can you please tell me how many do you have. Thanks

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