Body Armor for Police Officers: Protecting Our Nation’s Heroes From Ballistic Threats

Law Enforcement in the United States is a dangerous profession to be in. An officer starting his or her patrol never knows what type of danger they could encounter that day. It comes with an increased fatality rate and a higher likelihood of finding yourself face to face with the wrong end of a gun, one of the most common and deadly threats faced on the job. 

That’s why body armor should be considered a critical piece of safety equipment for officers’ personal protection. And although there is no such thing as bulletproof armor, ballistic-resistant body armor can protect against many types of handgun and rifle ammunition. Except for a duty weapon (and perhaps a secondary option for personal defense), body armor allows police officers an opportunity to walk away from a potentially life-threatening situation with survivable injuries.

Required Protection for Members of Law Enforcement

There is plenty of research showing that body armor is effective, but most police departments do not require it to be worn. While some patrol guides dictate that detectives must wear the vest when performing enforcement duty, like making an arrest, others don’t even have written policies on the matter. This means that the use of body armor is often purely up to the individual.

According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “During the past three decades, ballistic-resistant soft body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 police officers.” We’ll let you be the judge here, but in our opinion, this is critical safety equipment you should wear! Why risk a potentially deadly injury when you could prevent it altogether?

The Best Type of Vest for On-Duty Officers

Choosing the correct bulletproof vest is important and this decision should be based on the type of danger you’re most likely to encounter. For the majority of police officers, handguns and shotguns will be at the top of that list. Each precinct or department may have a specific requirement for concealable or tactical vests. Oftentimes, an officer will wear soft body armor and a SWAT member will wear a tactical vest that can carry MOLLE and be easily identified. What doesn’t change is the need for a ballistic-resistant vest that will protect from bullets, slashes, stabbings and blunt trauma. You’ll also want to make sure the body armor you purchase is certified by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ Certified).

Since police officers often wear multiple hats in a day, the versatility of body armor is equally as important. Safe Life Defense vests are built to be as lightweight as possible and also come with front and back pockets to insert rifle plates for additional protection. By providing vests with a plethora of options and optimal performance ratings, we can guarantee that officers in our body armor are as protected as possible.

The Real Reason You Should Wear Armor 

At the heart of the body armor movement, we find a simple message of safety and prevention. Its main purpose is to shelter the most vulnerable parts of human anatomy like the torso, which houses our most vital organs. For police, this is not only the largest center-mass area that can be hit, but it’s also the easiest to target. According to the NIJ and a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, “Officers who do not routinely wear body armor are 3.4 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury from a torso shot than officers who routinely wear body armor.” Simply put, when law enforcement officers wear bulletproof vests, they’re better protected from the dangers they face. Body armor and riot gear has the ability to save many lives. 

Purchasing Body Armor That Fits

An officer's superior or station will probably choose the brand and perhaps the carrier style for them. While some will allow you to choose between an under-uniform or external carrier, others may dictate if you’re only allowed to only wear one style. Per the BJA study, “Most agencies at a minimum, use body armor that protects officers against 9mm and .40 caliber bullets.” For most, this is an acceptable level of protection but even though ballistic panels can be moved between carrier types, it’s still important for police to talk to trusted peers and do a little research.

Another important consideration for body armor is to get the correct size. A casual fitting at a local store won’t do the trick. In fact, ill-fitting gear can get a cop killed if applied to a ballistic vest fitting. Here are a few things to note:

  • The armor plate should sit up high and touch your sternal notch. You can locate this area by using your finger to trace down from your Adam’s apple to where you’ll gag when you press in.  
  • The width should be wide enough to cover the center of your pectoral muscles. The point of armor is to protect your heart and lungs, not your guts and if it’s too narrow, it won't be as effective.
  • The cut, shape and curvature of plates will depend on your intended use and comfort preferences.
  • The fitting process is different for female cops in comparison to their male counterparts.

Remember, it’s the responsibility of each individual officer to ensure their armor will fit them properly. This applies to both the time of purchase and the lifespan of the vest. Big changes in body shape and fluctuations in weight can expose new weaknesses, such as gaps, where the front and back panels may no longer meet. If you don’t like the fit, if you find it uncomfortable or you’ve outgrown your size, say something and then do something about it. You’re going to be living with your armor for at least the next five years.

At Safe Life Defense we understand the importance of properly-fitted vests, which is why we offer a Fit Guarantee. In addition to this, we also offer bundles that allow even more layers of protection, like rifle plates, to be added. Treat your armor with care and respect. This piece of equipment can save your life and one day, it just might be the single element that gets you back to what really matters after your shift – your family. 

Any law enforcement departments that are looking to purchase bulk orders of body armor should contact us for more information on sizing and potential savings. As always, we encourage you to talk to your brothers and sisters in blue, to learn from experience and understand the limitations of each piece of gear.

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