Law enforcement in the United States encompasses multiple organizations and agencies, each covering specific jurisdictions and types of offenses. Depending on the duties assigned to each officer or agent, and the location he or she operates within, the level of risk varies. However, personnel across all sectors may need to wear body armor.
For those new to law enforcement, or those who may be unsure, this guide provides a brief breakdown of the types of armor available and how it can help officers across multiple sectors stay as safe as possible in the field.
Levels of Protection
There are three main types of soft body armor: ballistic, edged blade, and spike. Each is designed to provide maximum coverage to the vital organs and major blood vessels in the event of attack.
Ballistic armor is designed to absorb a bullet's energy on impact, slowing the bullet, and flattening it to stop penetration. Vests are put through stringent tests by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and assigned a specific protection level based on the amount of ballistic protection they offer. In the current NIJ nomenclature, there are five levels of ballistic protection IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV. Level IIIA is the highest standard for soft body armor. Levels III and IV, which can stop rifle fire, can currently only be achieved with the addition of hard armor plates.
Edged blade vests are thinner and more lightweight than ballistic vests. These feature a tight armor fiber weave in many layers that is designed to create friction against knives and other sharp objects and stop them tearing through.
Spike protection vests work in a similar manner to stab vests, but they have an even tighter armor weave, and the gaps between the fibers are narrow enough to trap pointed tips.
Choosing the Right Armor
Patrol officers respond to various diverse calls, from low-risk incidents to armed sieges and violent robberies. Consequently, they and traffic enforcement officers such as state troopers need to wear ballistic body armor at all times on duty. Special protection vests should also be available when needed.
For those working in prisons and jails, stab and spike protection is more important than ballistic armor. Blades and hand-crafted shanks pose the greatest danger to corrections officers. And sheriff's deputies who work in both corrections and patrol operations may need armor that offers both stab protection and ballistic protection.
This article was produced by SafeGuard Armor. SafeGuard manufactures a range of protective clothing and accessories for police officers around the world.
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