Roles and Responsibilities
Law Enforcement is a difficult and dangerous profession encompassing a number of roles and responsibilities. Officers are tasked with performing a large range of duties and remaining confident and professional in a number of environments. These roles will have drastically different requirements and threats, yet every Officer will need to be protected. This means that every Officer should be aware of the protection available to them in order to make the right choice in bullet proof vest.
Of course, a bullet proof vest may not be the most appropriate protection for an Officer. While the threat of firearms is certainly very high for many in Law Enforcement, certain situations will make guns less of a threat than other weapons. For example, in crowded places or areas with metal detectors guns will be difficult to carry, yet edged and spiked weapons are easily accessible and can be just as deadly.
Many do not realise that a bullet resistant vest cannot protect you against edged and spiked weapons because of the materials used in them. Kevlar is almost synonymous with bullet proof vests, and is used in the majority of armor. This allows energy from impacts (including edged and spiked weapons) to be absorbed and dispersed across the fabric. However, while bullets will be trapped and flattened, edged weapons like knives and hatchets will cut through the fabric, rendering it useless. Similarly, spiked weapons like needles and screwdrivers can pass through the minute gaps between the fibers, again making the vest useless.
For protection against edged and spiked weapons a vest with additional materials is required. Stab and spike proof vests use chainmail and/or laminate to provide a protective barrier for the ballistic materials. For Officers who will be dealing with individuals in close quarters, this extra protection can prove invaluable despite the small increase in weight it brings.
Rapid Response Officers
The threats facing a Uniformed Police Officer may be vastly different to those faced by a SWAT team for example, and yet they can still be extremely serious. As previously mentioned, firearms are a very serious threat, and handguns are the most common type of gun available. Uniformed Officers therefore need to be able to protect against handgun ammunition by wearing a bullet proof vest. Ballistic testing is undergone by the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and a vest at NIJ Level IIIa is capable of stopping handgun ammunition upto and including .44 Magnums and 9mm at high velocities. It is important that Officers in all roles have this level of protection as standard, but it is especially important for Uniformed Officers.
High risk situations are not only the domain of SWAT teams, as Rapid Response Officers for example will be required to deal with extreme situations. However, their role is further compounded by a need for flexibility and mobility, as well as high grade protection. Fortunately, modern body armor materials are so thin and lightweight that protection against even armor-piercing ammunition is available in a covert vest designed to be worn underneath a uniform. These covert vests can be equipped with rigid plates of Ceramic and/or Polyethylene to provide protection against high caliber rounds, without overly hindering the Officers movement and ability. Some covert vests are also available with temperature-regulating technologies to help keep the wearer cool, allowing vests to be worn for extended periods comfortably.
The rigid plates mentioned above become invaluable when working in hostile environments and extreme situations. SWAT teams are often called upon to deal with the most dangerous circumstances and have perhaps the most difficult requirements for body armor. While the threats they are called to face will necessitate the use of high grade protection, they are also required to work quickly and efficiently, and so need a full range of movement and mobility.
Fortunately, most body armor is light and flexible enough that it can be worn comfortably for extended periods without hindering mobility. Tactical armor is also very useful for SWAT teams because of the additional protection it is available with; coverings for the neck, throat, groin, and upper arm for example are all available with tactical armor, making it the most complete protection for SWAT teams.