Fit-related requirement to receive body armor partnership funds takes effect

All agencies applying for BVP funding are required to offer their officers the opportunity to receive vests that "are uniquely fitted"


This article is taken from the May 2017 issue of eTechBeat, published by the Justice Technology Information Center, a component of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System, a program of the National Institute of Justice, (800) 248-2742.

By Becky Lewis
Tech Beat Magazine

“Hey, you been down to get measured for your new vest yet?”

“Oh, I don’t need to do that. I wear a medium. Every shirt I own, a medium. I’ll just tell them that.”

(Photo/Tech Beat Magazine)
(Photo/Tech Beat Magazine)

“Not really the best way to get a vest that could save your life, my friend. Didn’t you read that handout that went around, the one that talked about how important it is for your armor to fit properly? They’re giving us the chance to be measured for our new vests to help make sure they fit right and don’t leave parts of our chests and backs unprotected.”

Conversations similar to the above may be taking place in agencies across the United States that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) program and are preparing to procure new ballistic-resistant vests. A recent amendment to the legislation reauthorizing the BVP program says that beginning in 2017, all agencies applying for BVP funding are required to offer their officers the opportunity to receive vests that “are uniquely fitted,” “including vests uniquely fitted to individual female law enforcement officers.” (See note at the bottom of this article, “Amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.”)

What that means, says Dan Longhurst, an engineer working on standards with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Body Armor Compliance Testing Program (CTP), is that “officers should review the fit guidance and make sure that your armor vest meets those criteria.” 

The guidance that Longhurst refers to stems from ASTM E3003-15 Standard Practice for Body Armor Wearer Measurement and Fitting of Armor, available free to qualified criminal justice professionals through an agreement between NIJ and ASTM International, which developed the standard at NIJ’s request. This standard, which criminal justice professionals can access through a portal on JUSTNET, the website of NIJ’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System, describes how to take an individual’s measurements for concealable (normal duty) and tactical (special duty) armor for both male and female officers, and includes guidance on how to check armor to be sure that it fits the wearer properly. Its main goal is to ensure “[p]roper measurement of the wearer and fitting of the armor to that individual … to obtain sufficient coverage of the torso and vital organs while allowing the full range of motion required for officer operations.”

Cassy Robinson of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Standards Coordination Office, who participated in the development of the ASTM standard, says efforts have been underway for more than seven years to interact with officers in the field to check the fit of their armor.

“We have seen some really poorly fitting armor, which led us to develop initial guidance on measurements in 2012,” she says. “As our efforts continued, we realized that although proper fitting armor starts with taking measurements, assessing the fit of the armor made to those measurements is equally as important. We’ve seen officers who were measured properly, but the armor delivered to them still didn’t necessarily fit. This led to developing ASTM E3003, which addresses measurement and fit.”

Part of the reason some of those officers may have continued to wear armor that didn’t fit properly lies in perception: Most officers don’t know what it means to have armor that truly fits; that is, it’s the correct size, has sufficient coverage and allows the officer to perform normal duties, she says.

“An officer may like a vest because it feels relatively comfortable, but typically we find that this comfort comes from a lack of coverage. It is important for officers to understand proper fit and how to assess a vest for proper fit, as well as understanding that the purpose of protective vests is not comfort, but providing protection during deadly force incidents,” Robinson says.

To assist officers, NIST and the Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC), which administers JUSTNET, teamed up to produce a pair of reference materials that extract information from ASTM E3003 and put it in portable, easy-to-understand format. On JUSTNET, criminal justice professionals can find Personal Armor Fit Assessment Checklist, which asks officers to check their individual vest’s fit while donning and removing the armor, assuming a shooting stance, taking a sitting position, restraining a subject and driving a car. It also includes a section on visual inspection of the armor while being worn to assess the coverage of the vest. Its companion piece, a brochure titled Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Basics, includes two panels titled “Does Your Body Armor Fit?” that are derived from ASTM E3003.

In addition, NIJ and JTIC also provide other resources that can help agencies and officers determine whether vests fit the unique measurements of the wearer:

Selection and Application Guide to Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor For Law Enforcement, Corrections and Public Safety NIJ Selection and Application Guide- 0101.06, published in December 2014, includes a chapter on measurement, fit and coverage that features photographs and a diagram illustrating proper fit and areas of concern for both soft and hard ballisticresistant armor (see Chapter 5: Measurement, Fit and Coverage, pp. 23-26).

Body Armor: Survive in the Line of Fire, produced for NIJ and designed to encourage officers to wear their body armor, includes a segment on measurement and fit.

NLECTC Minutes: Female Body Armor, features Lt. Brandi Adamchik of the U.S. Park Police, a member of NIJ’s Special Technical Committee on ballisticresistant body armor and its focus group of female armor issues, discussing issues related to the fit of female body armor.

Amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968

The amendment discussed in this article is a change to the language. The change reads:
SEC. 7. UNIQUELY FITTED ARMOR VESTS.
Section 2501(c) of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3796ll(c)) is amended—
(1) in paragraph (2), by striking “and” at the end;
(2) in paragraph (3), by striking “; or’’ and inserting “; and”;
(3) by redesignating paragraph (4) as paragraph (5); and
(4) by inserting after paragraph (3) the following:
“(4) provides armor vests to law enforcement officers that are uniquely fitted for such officers, including vests uniquely fitted to individual female law enforcement officers; or’’. (https://www.congress.gov/114/plaws/publ155/PLAW-114publ155.pdf)

For more information on the CTP and the BVP, go to JUSTNET at www.justnet.org, https://ojp.gov/bvpbasi/home.html and to www.PoliceArmor.org, a one-stop site for body armor information that is also maintained by JTIC. For more information on NIJ’s body armor portfolio, contact Senior Law Enforcement Program Manager Mike O’Shea at michael.oshea@usdoj.gov.

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