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Unintended Consequences

The NIJ's new body armor standard was developed to make you safer on duty. It may do that, but it may also make your vest less comfortable and more expensive.

November 12, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

What Does This Mean to You?

Here's why the changes in the certification testing are important to you as working law enforcement officers.

  • They will make you safer.
  • They will make your vest heavier (how much is the question).
  • They will make your vest more expensive.

Stopping Special Threats

Vests certified under the 06 standard are irrefutably more bullet resistant than comparable vests certified under earlier standards.

"I believe the new standard definitely produces a much safer product for my law enforcement customer," says Safariland's Weber.

"The bottom line is that the 06 standard-certified vests have more robust ballistic packages that can stop more rounds," agrees Michael Foreman, senior vice president of Point Blank Solutions Inc.

There's a very simple reason why 06 standard vests have to be so much more robust than the 05 standard vests: They get shot a lot more in the certification process. "We've gone from 48 shots to more than 390 total shots," Safariland's Weber says.

Heavier and Stiffer

Greater protection means more weight and bulk and rigidity and other things that make a 12-hour shift in concealable body armor such an unpleasant experience.

Designers at the body armor manufacturing companies are very well aware of your need for both comfort and protection. They know that your Holy Grail for body armor is something as comfortable as a T-shirt that will protect you from rifle fire. But such a wonder fabric does not presently exist, so the designers are working hard to minimize the weight they will have to add to meet the 06 standard.

For example, Point Blank and P.A.C.A. (two divisions of the same company) are using Kevlar XP, geometric structures made of Kevlar, to minimize the additional weight in their 06 vests. Foreman says the result is a nominal increase in weight.

And Mike Slate, director of engineering and development for Protective Products International, says his company is doing everything it can to make the 06 vests as comfortable as its older models. But he admits that the 06 vests are going to be a little heavier than last year's model. "We expect to see a five to 10 percent increase in weight. So we're trying to make the vests more flexible," he says.

Slate adds that he's working hard to cut weight and make PPI's next generation of vests more comfortable and still capable of passing the 06 standard.

Safariland's Weber agrees that research and development are the keys to a new generation of lighter, comfortable, and safer vests. "Yes, our 06 vests are slightly heavier and they may feel a little different than what we used to build, but that's where competition and R&D comes in and that cycle is occurring now."

If you want to be more comfortable while you are waiting on the next generation of more comfortable vests, the manufacturers have an interesting suggestion: Consider wearing a Level II vest.

Understandably, police officers and police agencies tend to buy Level IIIA vests sacrificing comfort for protection. But the 06 standard vests are so much better at stopping rounds that a Level II may be a better choice.

"Guys have been conditioned over the last decade or so to think they need Level IIIA, but that's not necessarily the case," says First Choice Armor's Brian Wong. "We're shooting our Level II vest with a .357 SIG at 1,600 to 1,700 feet per second."

Foreman says Point Blank's 06 standard Level II packages are also offering much more protection than their forerunners. "With the 06 standard vests we are seeing significant increases in V50 (the velocity at which half of the test rounds penetrate the armor) performance in our Level II vest," says Point Blank's Foreman. "We've shot them with all common threat rounds, and we're seeing them stop rounds that were historically shot in Level IIIA vests."

Of course, the 06 standard Level IIIA vests are even tougher than the Level II packages but you pay for the protection in weight and rigidity. "They're not as soft as they used to be," Foreman admits. "But we're seeing 15 percent less backface deformation than from a comparable Level IIIA vest certified under the 05 standard."

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

mtarte @ 11/12/2009 11:11 PM

Why is it the NIJ changes these standards rather than ensuring compliance? I have to ask if anyone at NIJ has ever sat in a patrol car for an entire shift in the middle of summer in Arizona, Nevada or even the Central Valley of California wearing a vest? Wonderful that they are concerned for officer safety, but at what point do you sacrifice comfort for "more" safety? When officers start to leave their vests off due to the lack of comfort, what good are the new standards except to justify some researcher's job at NIJ?

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