30 Things You Need to Know About Body Armor

Once a curious novelty, today's body armor is one of those things many officers take for granted. That said, there's a lot the average officer should know about his or her concealed "life preserver."

Here, some of the leading experts from top armor manufacturers provide helpful tips that might just save a campus officer’s life.

1. It’s Not Really Bulletproof
It’s bullet resistant. Your body armor will not protect you from all threats.

“Statistically speaking, nothing can be bulletproof, not even a manhole cover,” says John Geshay, Safariland’s director of marketing for soft body armor. “In an extremely small percentage of cases, a round can even go through a vest that it is rated to stop. The round itself could have an extra serration on it or something.”

U.S. Armor’s Georg Olsen adds that “There is no red ‘S’ on body armor. It does not turn you into Superman. Stuff you do that’s stupid and reckless without body armor is still stupid when you are wearing body armor.”

2. How Does Fabric Stop a Bullet?
The ballistic panels in soft body armor are made of extremely strong woven or non-woven fibers or a combination of the two. This material stops a bullet much like a net stops a tennis ball. It turns the bullet, slows it down, and disperses its energy throughout the panel. The mushrooming of a handgun bullet helps with this process. Also, the slower and heavier the bullet, the better. High-velocity and hardened tip bullets like those fired from rifles can cut through the fibers and punch through the vest.

3. Your Armor Should Stop Your Duty Load
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) certification levels can be pretty confusing. There are agencies that wear Level II A vests, others wear Level II, and others wear Level III A. It’s a challenge for your agency to anticipate what handgun rounds will be popular with local criminals, but there’s one threat that can be anticipated: Your own sidearm. A shocking number of police officers are shot with their own weapons after gun grabs. Friendly fire incidents during training are other risks. So your vest should be able to defeat the rounds used by yourself and other officers in your agency.

4. All Guns Are Deadly
There’s a tendency among gun enthusiasts to dismiss the lethal potential of certain calibers of handguns. However, a small round traveling at high speed can punch through body armor. Big handgun rounds like .45 ACP and .44 Magnum tend to travel relatively slowly and are easier to stop with soft body armor than 9mm and .357 SIG. Shotgun pellets are particularly dangerous. “Vests aren’t even rated for shot shells,” explains Corey Provenzano, director of business development for Protective Products International (PPI). “Shot shells are not all that consistent in velocity.”

5. It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage
Most soft body armor sold in the United States is rated for five years of service. That’s the standard of the NIJ. But the truth is that body armor wear should be calculated by how it’s been worn. A vest that’s worn every day will lose its protective capability much faster than one that has been sitting on a shelf. Unfortunately, there’s no way to track wear of vests by the hour, so the NIJ set five years as a standard. Regardless, after a few years of wear, check your own ballistic panels. Look for tears, creases, burns, smells and damage. If you take good care of your vest, it should easily survive five years. If you treat it like an old T-shirt, it may degrade much sooner. Follow user care instructions.

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