Ballistic shields: Factors for consideration

Effective ballistic shields come in a variety of sizes in both soft and hard armor systems. There are advantages to both, so during any testing and evaluation process, one must take into account the capabilities of each available option, and measure those against the most likely threats your officers may encounter on the streets.

For example, understanding the different types of ballistic systems and the capabilities they offer — as well as being aware of the NIJ standards for threat levels and what each standard stops — is paramount in choosing the correct ballistic shield. 

According to Brooks Thomas at Patriot3 — with whom I recently spoke for this column — some systems are not capable of stopping some of the most prevalent threats faced by officers.

“Lower velocity shots, which are not always considered, are capable of penetrating some NIJ Level 3 systems,” Thomas explained. 

Soft Armor Versus Hard Armor
Soft armor systems are considered by many to be the best for rapid deployment. Most are manufactured in NIJ level 3A ballistic material and some meet blast fragmentation specifications. Soft armor systems are usually considered more multi-functional due to the fragmentation and ballistic capabilities, but additionally because of handle placements and broader scenario use.

Most soft armor systems do not have a view port, but typically give a large amount of coverage and are very lightweight. Soft armor shields offer immediate protection and can be used for breaching, thrown over doors, hung over windows and in a prone position. 

Rigid ballistic shields are available in folding models, curved entry models, and flat panel models. Most rigid systems have a view port offering the user a clear sight for shooting.

Some NIJ Level 3 systems omit the view port due to the additional weight. Rigid armor shields become heavier when a view port is added, however lighter weight composites are becoming available regularly and manufacturers continue to develop new technologies.

Personal protection hard armor systems are manufactured in both NIJ Level 3A (small arms) and NIJ Level 3 (high-powered rifle) protection.

Do Your Homework
Researching and verifying system capabilities is necessary to ensure that your agency is getting the right system for your officers and their specific needs. 

Being prepared and having the correct equipment available that allows an officer to respond protected to any situation in only seconds can prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities for officers as well as innocent victims.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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