Understanding the new NIJ body armor standard
Ed Note: According to the NIJ, body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 police officers since 1975. As technology advances and manufacturers begin to introduce armor that is compliant with new NIJ standard, PoliceOne will be sure to keep you updated with additional updates and resources. Be sure to check out the P1 NIJ Body Armor Standard page, sponsored by U.S. Armor, where you can download the complete “.06” standard, learn what it means for departments and officers, and read news and featured articles on this important topic. Our goal is to make sure departments and officers have the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions. If you or your department are considering a body armor purchase and you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, please drop us a note. We’d like to hear from you.
In July 2008, the National Institute of Justice released NIJ Standard-0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, the latest evolution in standards by which law enforcement protective vests are measured. The “.06” standard “establishes minimum performance requirements and test methods for the ballistic resistance of personal body armor designed to protect the torso against gunfire.” It supersedes NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor (August 2005) and also supersedes NIJ Standard-0101.04 Rev. A, Ballistic Resistance of Personal Body Armor (June 2001).
In mid-December, the NIJ granted authorization to the Compliance Testing Program (CTP) to begin accepting applications for participation. Most recently, the CTP announced that the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has approved five independent ballistic test laboratories to conduct compliance testing.
What does all this mean?
The first thing that officers and departments need to know is that the new body armor standard does not invalidate body armor models that are compliant with the “old” standard. Secondly, under the new standard, the NIJ can now require much more rigorous testing of ballistic armor. This includes subjecting armor to conditions of high heat, humidity and mechanical wear before testing. In English, that means the NIJ are required not only to test only new vests, but also those that have been in service out in the field. The testing of vests over time could be the most significant impact of the new standard from an officer safety perspective. Imagine the prospect of someone coming to your agency with a replacement vest and taking your current vest to a facility to be tested.
Any officer who today has a vest that meets the existing standard should continue to wear it. But the NIJ in particular wants agencies and individuals who are planning to purchase a new ballistic vest to seriously consider getting one that complies with the new .06 standard.
This begs the question, “What vests will meet that standard, and when will they be on the market?” The race is now on for manufacturers to submit for testing new models they hope will meet the new standard. PoliceOne could not get any more specifics from the NIJ, but we were able to speak with several industry sources.
“We’re telling departments that the new .06 standard does not negate the .04 standard,” says Georg L. Olsen, General Manager for U.S. Armor. “It’s important to note that with the record number of thousands of saves under the .04 standards, there is a very compelling argument that the standard is still viable. The only time an agency would be required to buy vests under the .06 standard is if they want matching BVP funds. As a company, however, we are certifying product to the .06 standards and approaching the process cautiously as it evolves.”
Ed Hinchey, Armor Technical Specialist and Law Enforcement Liaison for Safariland, says that his company expects to be shipping product to the testing facilities in the next couple of weeks.
“I can’t speak for any of the other companies, but our initial batch will be about eight different architectures for submission,” Hinchey says. “The key thing for us, and we’re excited about it, is that this going to force increased performance against the threats that we have in law enforcement today, better reliability, and improved durability. The huge jump in the number of samples we have to submit—and they’ve also standardized the size of the test samples, which we’re really happy about—takes any kind of fluctuation out of the game and makes it a really exact science. We’re real happy about it.”
The NIJ says that officers and/or agencies “seeking guidance concerning the selection and application of body armor” should refer to the Selection and Application Guide to Personal Body Armor, NIJ Guide 100, which explains in non-technical language “how to select equipment that provides the level of performance required by a purchasing agency.”
The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act (BVPGA), which is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), provides assistance funds—as much as half of the purchase price—for body armor that complies with NIJ Standards.
Hinchey points out that the existing BVP funding is still being shared between the .04 and the .06 standard. “We just don’t know how much longer they’re going to attach that (standard)...at some point in time we fully anticipate the NIJ and the folks that handle the BVP funding attaching it to the .06 to kind of spur departments to take a hard look at the .06 specs versus the previous specs.”
For more information on grant funding, take a look at the resources on PoliceGrantsHelp.com, which include tips on how to write grant proposals, such as Michael Paddock’s 15 FAQs for Law Enforcement and the Police Grants Research.
The new NIJ standard is intended to ensure that “the vests police officers wear will continue to protect them as the material ages,” according to the NIJ website.
Hinchey says that the new standard should increase officers’ belief in the performance of their armor. “There are so many more data points for the officer to rely on, it should allow them a much more informed choice. They’ll be able to look at a much wider range of protocols and data.”
Consequences—both intended and unintended—of this new standard will begin to emerge in coming months, and PoliceOne will continue to update this story as additional information becomes available. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, you can do so by sending us an email.
The five NIJ-approved laboratories eligible to begin compliance testing are:
121 Bata Blvd., Ste. F
Belcamp, MD 21017
Telephone: (410) 297-8154
Contact: Craig Thomas
H.P. White Laboratory
Street, MD 21154
Telephone: (410) 838-6550
Contact: Craig Dunn
ICS Laboratories, Inc.
1072 Industrial Parkway
Brunswick, OH 44212
Telephone: (330) 220-0515
Contact: Dale Pfriem
Oregon Ballistic Laboratories, LLC
2873 22nd St. SE
Salem, OR 97302
Telephone: (503) 540-8114
Contact: Thomas Ohnstad
United States Test Laboratory
7447 W. 33 North
Wichita, KS 67205
Telephone: (316) 832-1600
Contact: Richard Mouser
Information on all NIJ-approved laboratories is posted on the JUSTNET Web site, located at www.justnet.org.