Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
Police bullet proof vest is a generic term applied to a wide range of soft or hard armor developed to prevent penetration by bullets. You’ll hear some people say that there is no such thing as a police bullet proof vest. Whether or not a vest is bullet proof depends upon several factors including the level of protection it provides. The type of bullet fired into the vest and the number hits are critical factors. You’ll want a vest rated to protect you as much as possible against the threats you’re likely to encounter.
Baltimore was one of the first major police departments to issue soft body armor in the 1980s. The vests consisted of a single Kevlar panel for the front only, and they were rated as a level I or type I. This rating prevented penetration by .22 caliber; .25 caliber; .32 caliber, and .380 caliber bullets.
Hard Lesson Learned - Police Bullet Proof Vest
The single panel was comfortable, and it served its purpose in a number of lifesaving instances. Then a Baltimore police officer was shot by a suspect using a .357 magnum revolver, and the bullet easily penetrated the single front panel. The impact spun the officer around, and he was shot a second time in the back which had no protection.
The officer’s death was followed by the issuance of three additional panels, and two panels for both front and back doubled the ballistic protection. Of course, the vest was no longer comfortable.
Levels of Protection - Police Bullet Proof Vest
You’ll notice that the chart provided below doesn’t even include type I body armor. Years ago, the smaller caliber, low velocity bullets were those predominantly used by criminals, but today, 9mm and 40mm high capacity semi-automatic handguns are the most used by both police and criminals. Refer to the chart from the National Institute of Justice and you can see that your minimum level of protection would be Type IIA.
Type IIA (9 mm; .40 S&W)
II (9 mm; .357 Magnum)
IIIA (.357 SIG; .44 Magnum)
IV (Armor Piercing Rifle)
There’s a lot of science involved in the continuing evolution of soft body armor. Your vest protects you from penetrating rounds, but there’s still the problem of blunt impact trauma. If more than one round hits, the blunt trauma only increases. Nothing is ever perfect, but your access to a state of the art police bullet proof vest far exceeds the protection afforded to police officers in the past.
Concealable Body Armor
A concealable or covert police bullet proof vest is designed to be worn beneath your uniform shirt. The primary purpose for concealment is to maintain the integrity of your uniform, and if you’re working in a plainclothes assignment, the reason for concealment is obvious.
Look closely at a uniformed police officer, and you’ll quickly determine whether or not the officer is wearing a concealable police bullet proof vest. The purpose for concealment is not to fool anyone, because criminals already know that most police officers wear body armor.
Tactical Body Armor
A vest that’s not concealable comes under the tactical label. When body armor is worn overtly, the style of the armor can be simple to elaborate. The fabric carrier might have utility pockets and pouches for ammo, and all kinds of additions and extensions can be added to tactical vests to protect additional parts of the body.
Comfort in Relation to Protection
Every police officer should and must have the best police bullet proof vest available for personal protection. Sophisticated tactical armor will be appropriate in particular situations, but the armor you wear on a daily basis needs to meet a minimum level of comfort. Today’s concealable police bullet proof vest far exceeds the comfort level of the armor I wore for years, and you’ll see more use of overt body armor being worn by uniformed police officers during their regular tour of duty.
Because of the continual advancement in the science of body armor, the armor can be styled and fitted to conform to the police officer’s uniform. There’s no question that armor worn over the shirt is far more comfortable than armor worn beneath the shirt.
There is one distinct advantage as well as disadvantage to overt body armor. The overt armor can be easily removed. Every police officer needs to understand that the armor only protects when it’s being worn. Just like a car seat belt; if you need it when you’re not wearing it, you won’t have time to put it on.
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