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How to buy personal shields
By Rick Armellino
As understood and practiced by legions of shield users across many centuries of brutal warfare - lightweight and portable shields are excellent tools that protect warriors conducting close quarter battle. Today, only the the names of combatants, the equipment they select, and the tactics they use have changed.
Advances in ballistic composite materials have allowed the creation of a new class of portable ballistic shield, labeled the "Personal Shield". Any ballistic shield intended to protect a single officer, carried within ready reach inside the patrol vehicle, and then swiftly deployed to full size upon exiting the vehicle, is considered a personal shield.
Personal shields that are positioned within reach inside a standard patrol vehicle are steadily gaining in popularity. And for good reason, patrol officers having immediate access to hard armor that enhances the minimal bodily coverage provided by their concealable soft body armor is an excellent safety concept.
Popular soft concealable body armor, by nature, leaves the wearer vulnerable to gunfire that all too often impacts bodily areas outside the limited perimeter of a vest, yet still has the ability to inflict incapacitating damage to vital organs.
Lightweight ballistic shields cover significantly more of the vital organs, arteries and unprotected bodily regions (head, neck, shoulder, groin, femoral artery) vulnerable to gunshots.
Additionally, unlike the mechanical properties of soft body armor, a round stopped within a hard shield does not transfer dangerous levels of shock, trauma or pain to the user. This greatly enhances the ability of an officer to appropriately react and survive a gunfight.
There are a growing variety of personal shields now entering the law enforcement equipment marketplace. For law enforcement agencies considering protecting their officers with a vehicle mounted personal patrol shield, it is very important to put various styles of personal shields through the paces to determine their suitability to seamlessly blend into patrol duties and expectations before the purchase is made.
Although all personal ballistic shields are uniformly designed for patrol officer safety, not all are suitable for an aggressive offense in close proximity to an armed threat. Some shield styles are engineered to protect the user during establishment and maintenance of an armored defensive ballistic covered position. It is up to each particular agency to determine how and when these shields are to be authorized for use.
Use policy can dictate which style of shield is best suited for the mission, and under what types of circumstances it can be used. One state police agency providing personal shields allows their patrol officers to deploy shields "whenever the trooper feels threatened". In the opinion of many, that’s excellent officer safety policy.
It is not uncommon for patrol officers to utilize a personal shield during dangerous procedures such as: high risk vehicle stops, approaching emotionally disturbed individuals, and building search and clearing operations. Determining what missions/situations would benefit from patrol use of a personal shield need to be established before the style of shield is selected for purchase.
An example of an offensive/aggressive personal shield protected mission would be patrol response to an active shooter, with the intent to approach and neutralize the threat. Unlimited visibility, mobility, and the ability to accurately apply firepower from an appropriate handgun or long gun are required for active shooter neutralization.
An example of a defensive mission would be establishment of a perimeter, while using the safety and mobility provided by the shield to change positions with good ballistic cover, observe/report while waiting for additional personnel, and engaging a threat only if attacked. Inclusion of a ballistic window, and the necessity of one handed aiming/firing (handgun only) while the user positions their arm and hand around the outer edge perimeter of the shield are common characteristics of a defensive style personal shield.
Here are the main factors to consider when purchasing personal shields:
1. Mission Compatibility: Will policy authorize shield use during offensive duties and/or multiple dangerous patrol duties such as vehicle stops, building searches, and approaching possibly armed individuals? Or will policy dictate purely defensive shield usage such as perimeter establishment, observation, and slow clearing operations?
2. Price: Like all modern lifesaving armor products; the lighter the weight, the greater the bodily coverage it provides, the more it costs. Expect to pay a least double the price of a level IIIA concealable soft vest for an entry level personal shield. High end, high coverage personal shields are constructed of ultra-high strength hard plastic composite armor and typically exceed $3,000 per unit.
3. Ballistic Performance: All personal shields are rated to meet NIJ ballistic standards established for "free-standing" armor. Threat Level IIIA is the most common rating, providing protection from multiple impacts from most common handguns, shotguns (buckshot), and pistol caliber submachine guns.
4. Design Features: Look for the ability to support the weight of the shield via a single point quick release carrying system, so that long term carry can be conducted without fatigue. Weapon reloading should be possible without difficulty. Determine if single handed shooting of a handgun is adequate, or if two-hands on a handgun or patrol rifle provides the necessary weapon accuracy required for surviving a gunfight. Various shield designs limit the types of weapons used, and require the use of unique shooting techniques.
5. Bodily Coverage: Different shields have a variety of shapes, sizes and features. Determine if the level of mobility, visibility, bodily coverage, and accuracy/type of firepower to be delivered is adequate to successfully accomplish the mission. Also determine how compact the shield stows within the vehicle, and how quickly the shield can be fully deployed upon vehicle exit.
6. Ease of Use & Care: Make sure that the personal shield selected is intuitive to use with minimal training or familiarization. Shields should be durable and easy to clean and stow easily within the vehicle following use. When mounted inside the patrol vehicle the personal shield should be able to withstand a severe crash or rollover without becoming an airborne hazard within the vehicle.
Rick Armellino is the Director and Chief Executive Officer of Baker Ballistics, LLC., the manufacturer of the Baker Batshield personal ballistic shield. He has over thirty years experience in the body armor industry, including Director of Research and Development and President of American Body Armor and Equipment, Inc. Rick's body armor designs have saved over 40 American LEO's from death or serious injury during attacks by gunfire. Recently, Rick has partnered with noted ballistic shield trainer, Lt. Al Baker (NYPD, ret.), to advance the concept of Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) tactics for use by first responders in the approach to armed and hostile individuals in public places.