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5 things to know when buying body armor

Identifying your threat level and finding the right fit are key concerns when it comes to choosing ballistic protection


The following is paid content sponsored by ATS Armor.

By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

Body armor saves lives. However, it can be difficult to know which of the many options is right for you and your department. Choosing your body armor solution need not be an agonizing misery. With the help of the NIJ and other organizations, body armor has come a long way in meeting today’s law enforcement needs.

The IACP encourages officers to wear ballistic protection at all times. (image Flickr)
The IACP encourages officers to wear ballistic protection at all times. (image Flickr)

Here are five things to consider next time you buy body armor:

Identify your threat level

When choosing your armor, first determine the mission during which you will most likely be wearing it and the level of protection you will most likely need.

“The first thing we ask protectors when talking about purchasing body armor is to identify the threat they face,” said Brian Beckwith, co-founder and COO of ATS Armor. “If you face the probability of a rifle threat, don’t go into that threat environment with pistol protection armor. Know the difference.”

SWAT officers will need protection against more than handguns, and the rise in active shooter incidents means more police departments are investing in rifle-rated hard armor plates for patrol officers. At a minimum, make sure you choose body armor that will also stop the rounds from the handgun you will be carrying in the event of a disarming.

Understand the NIJ standards

Once you know your threat level, you can start to look at what body armor is right for you. The National Institute of Justice conducts ballistic and other tests to judge the effectiveness of a manufacturer’s vests, soft panels and hard plates (or combination thereof), as well as to determine the useful lifespan of that armor.

It’s important to know which option stops a given caliber of threat. These range from Types I, IIA, II and IIIA for handguns to hard armor Types III, III++ and IV to defeat rifle and armor-piercing rounds. The higher the rating, the greater the protection.

Know the difference between stand-alone and in-conjunction armor

It’s also important to understand the difference between stand-alone armor and in-conjunction armor.

Police officers frequently wear soft body armor underneath their uniforms. This offers protection against handguns, but an additional hard plate is needed to defend against rifle rounds. This pairing is referred to as in-conjunction body armor – together, they defeat the threat. An in-conjunction plate must be worn with the specific soft body armor it was tested with to be effective.

With a stand-alone armor plate, no other protection is needed to be effective against the prescribed threat level, although many officers choose to wear these in a carrier vest for convenience.

Choose the right armor – and wear it

Armor only protects you when you’re wearing it. It is crucial that you choose the right armor for the threats you’re likely to face in the field and to make sure you always wear it.

It’s well worth the time and effort to fit and wear-test different brands and combinations of armor. Move around to get a sense for how it will feel in the field. Mount your accessories, shoulder your weapon, put your gear on and see how the different armor moves with you. Does the system chafe? Does that plate prevent you from mounting the weapon properly? Does it hamper arm movement? Does it interfere with your handgun or duty belt items? These are all critical considerations when deciding on an armor system.

Get the right fit

Body armor should cover three key areas of your torso: front, back and sides. Trained personnel from manufacturers can assist you with proper fitting. Get measured correctly when you buy your armor. It should be snug without hampering movement. Make sure it doesn’t ride up into your throat or interfere with your duty belt when you squat, sit or bend.

“Proper placement of the plates is critical. The very top of the plate should be about an inch below the center of the joining point of your clavicles,” said Beckwith. “If the plates are not worn in the correct position on the body, they will not protect the vital organs as they are designed, and we suggest a full system of side and torso plates for complete protection. You just never know, going into a given threat environment, where that threat is going to be facing you. It’s not always going to be head-on.”

If your weight or body dimensions have changed after your original fitting, it’s a good idea to have the fit of your armor system re-evaluated to find out whether your armor still fits properly or needs to be replaced. Fitting body armor can be especially problematic for female officers, although custom options are available from many manufacturers. The NIJ provides a useful video with fitting tips here.

Find the solution that works best for you 

For more than 25 years, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has encouraged ballistic protection for all police officers, and increasingly, agencies are requiring officers to wear a protective vest at all times.

Body armor can mean the difference between life and death, and it’s critical to find the option that works best for you. If you need help purchasing a vest, the NIJ sponsors the Bulletproof Vest Partnership, which helps provide grant money for officers. Always check to make sure they are NIJ compliant. If in doubt, find out.

For more information on body armor and other protective products, contact ATS Armor.

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