Nearly all law enforcement agencies report that they provide body armor to their officers, but only 59 percent of the agencies require their officers to wear body armor at least some of the time, according to a new report announced by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
The report was released by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a Washington, D.C.-based police research and consulting organization. The NLEOMF provides a link to the report.
The report details the findings of a survey that PERF conducted in partnership with the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). The survey was sent to a large nationally representative sample of law enforcement agencies. Of all those who received the survey, 80 percent responded, for a total of 782 participating agencies.
Perhaps the research team's most encouraging finding is that almost all agencies responding to the survey - 99 percent - ensure that body armor is made available to their officers.
"Our survey findings suggest an overall move by agencies towards promoting the wearing of body armor and providing the necessary resources to do so," the report states. "As a result of these policies, officers are probably more likely to be wearing body armor while assaulted in the line of duty, and the number of officer deaths is lower than it otherwise would be."
(Previous research indicated that in 1987, only 28 percent of police agencies surveyed provided body armor or a cash allowance to purchase armor for all of their uniformed patrol officers. By 1993, that figure had climbed to about 82 percent, and it rose to more than 90 percent in 2000.)
While the new survey indicates that body armor is now available to almost all officers, the PERF report suggests that police agencies can make further improvements in their policies and practices to help ensure that officers actually use body armor as much as possible, and to provide more thorough controls on fitting of armor to individual officers, maintenance of the armor, and periodic inspections to ensure that officers' armor is in good condition.
The report notes that there have been sharp fluctuations in the numbers of officers killed by firearms in recent years. In 2008, 39 officers died in firearms-related incidents, which was a 43-percent reduction from the 68 officers killed in 2007, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The 2008 death toll was the lowest since 1956. However, in the first six months of 2009, firearm-related deaths increased 10 percent compared to the same period in 2008, from 20 to 22.
For the report's detailed findings, view the full release at the NLEOMF site.