JTIC Answers Your Questions About … Body Armor

    June 16, 2016

PhotoHere at JTIC I get a lot of questions asked of me each day via our information request email asknlectc@justnet.org. A large percentage of those are about body armor, both from body armor manufacturers as well as wearers. For manufacturers, questions usually pertain to making sure that they meet the Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor NIJ Standard 0101.06.  The NIJ Standard is recognized worldwide as the minimum performance standard for ballistic-resistant body armor.  It establishes standardized test methods and threat rounds to evaluate armor in several different threat classifications, for both soft and hard armor designs. This provides the end user with confidence that the armor has been independently tested and found to meet these minimum performance requirements.

Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers make up the rest of our requestors of information on body armor. I get questions regarding concealable versus exterior vest carriers, questions about what level vest to buy and whether a particular vest has been certified through our voluntary Compliance Testing Program (CTP).  In order for body armor to be certified by NIJ through our program, armor manufacturers have to apply to participate in NIJ’s voluntary CTP, and to agree to all terms and conditions, including participating in the Follow-up Inspection and Testing (FIT) program, which is ongoing random surveillance at the applicant’s manufacturing locations. It is shot at one of five NIJ-approved testing labs throughout the country. It then comes to our office, where CTP staff literally take it apart, layer by layer, to ensure that the samples were constructed identically and that the test was performed correctly by the laboratory. Once a model completes the testing and post-testing review process, it is placed on our Compliant Product List (https://www.justnet.org/compliant/find-products.html). Having an armor model listed on the CPL is very important for body armor manufacturers and agencies seeking to purchase these models, as federal grant money for body armor purchases, known as the Bulletproof Vest Partnership (http://ojp.gov/bvpbasi/), can only be used for armor that has been tested and certified through our program.

With more and more agencies turning to external vest carriers, the question of which is better (concealable or external) comes up a lot. There is no right or wrong answer, as it’s really a matter of personal preference. Concealable body armor allows a wearer to have a more traditional look, as it is worn under the duty uniform. All of your regular issued uniform items can still be worn over your uniform, such as cruiser jackets, sweaters, windbreakers, etc. External carriers are a bit larger and usually thicker. Many agencies are going to an external carrier that is made of material that matches the duty uniform shirt, so it still looks like the officer is wearing his regular duty uniform.

The external carrier also allows the wearer to take off body armor while completing administrative tasks, such as writing a report at the station or using the restroom at a fire station. Most external carriers allow for additional equipment that an officer doesn’t have to carry on his or her gun belt, such as an extra magazine for a patrol rifle, extra handcuffs or a pistol magazine. It is extremely important that if an agency decides to use concealable ballistic panels made by one company and place them into the external carrier made by a different company that they consult with the manufacturer of the ballistic panels and confirm with them that it is OK to do so. Many manufacturers are saying that placing their ballistic panels into another manufacturer’s external carrier will void the warranty. This is because their panels were shot and tested through our program in their carrier and they can’t guarantee that the ballistic protection won’t be compromised if shot while in another carrier.

What level of armor to wear is also an officer or agency choice. It is recommended that you wear, as a minimum, the level of armor that will stop the caliber of round that you have in your duty weapon. According to the NIJ Selection and Application Guide to Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor for Law Enforcement, Corrections and Public Safety, “For armor intended for everyday wear, agencies should, at a minimum, consider purchasing soft body armor that will protect their officers from assaults with their own handguns should they be taken from them during a struggle; Level IIA, II or IIIA as appropriate.” The guide also has a great deal of information on the proper measuring, fitting, wearing and care of body armor. It can be downloaded for free at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/247281.pdf.

A caveat here is that armor is tested with specific types of calibers and very specific rounds. To see what type of round each level of armor is tested to, you can download a copy of the Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor NIJ Standard 0101.06 at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/223054.pdf. It is important to note here that the 01010.06 standard is the minimum performance standard for ballistic armor. JTIC has also stood up a body armor-specific website in conjunction with the Bulletproof Vest Partnership. It contains much of the same information as the selection and application guide, but with more images, news of body armor saves, and survivor stories from officers. . The website is www.policearmor.org.

If you have any specific questions about body armor, both ballistic resistant and stab/cut resistant, please email me at asknlectc@justnet.org, or call (800) 248-2742. Stay safe and please…always wear your body armor.

Ben Bolton
Outreach & Technical Services Coordinator, JTIC

Ben Bolton is the Outreach & Technical Services Coordinator at JTIC. Prior to working at JTIC, Ben spent 25 years with the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia, where he retired as a sergeant in 2013. He spent time in patrol, their 9-1-1 center and was temporarily assigned to the NLECTC system’s CommTech program.