I talk about body armor in episode #027 of the BlueSheepdog Podcast. I discuss the differences between exposed and concealed body armor for patrol officers, trauma plates and mandatory wear policies.
It is my first day “back” as the past few weeks I have been sick and have had no voice. It is mighty hard to record a podcast with no voice…
Today, I want to talk about body armor, specifically body armor for the uniformed patrol officer. We’re not going to talk a lot about plate carriers and things like that that your S.W.A.T. teams may wear. We’ll probably cover those on another topic one day. But today, we’re just talking about body armor that the average patrol cop would wear.
Generally, the patrol cops are wearing concealable body armor, although that is changing somewhat. And you do have officers now wearing external vests. We’ve seen a lot of the vests that are worn externally start outside the United States as far as popularity.
I know that some of the folks I have talked with in Canada, they’ve been wearing them for quite a while up there. I know over in England, I’ve had some of the officers over there tell me that they’ve worn vests over there. Although I think a lot of the vests they wear over there are the stab-resistant vests, although I could be wrong. Or they could be wearing the combination stab and ballistic vest.
But there are some pros and cons to the concealable versus the externally-worn. But we’ll cover that in just a minute. Basically, if you are in uniform, you should be wearing some type of ballistic vest, concealed or external.
If you are walking around where people recognize you as a police officer, you become a target for bad people. And you should absolutely always be wearing some type of ballistic protection. If you’re working inside a police station, inside a station house, it’s debatable on whether or not you should be wearing it.
I would certainly argue that if you’re in uniform, you should definitely be wearing it all the time, even if you are sitting at the station, because at any moment, you may be called to handle something, whether you’re working like the front desk in a lobby, or you’re handling citizen complaints coming in, or answering questions from citizens.
Or even if you are wearing a uniform and you’re behind some secure area, you may have to at some point go up to an unsecured area to assist citizens. And at that point, you’re an obvious target, but yet, you don’t have any type of ballistic protection. Never mind the fact that most of the folks that are stuck behind a desk at some point probably get out from behind the desk and go to lunch at some point during the day. And while you’re sitting in lunch at Applebee’s, or Chilli’s, or a local restaurant or something, again you’re that target.
You can’t hide while you’re in uniform. So, it’s just a — It’s my opinion that you should probably, any time you’re in uniform, have the vest on. Certainly, it is without a — without any doubt in my mind. If you are in a patrol capacity, you definitely need to be wearing a vest.
Vests generally, at many departments I guess, are provided by the agency, which is good and bad. It’s great for the officer from the standpoint of cost. Most vests — The least expensive vests, brand new, probably start around $350 to $400 US, and go up from there. Some of the nicer vests that are a little more flexible, a little more comfortable, a little thinner but still provide great protection, those usually start at around $600, $650, $700.
It just depends on what your department is willing to invest and what you get. And I guess, that’s kind of a draw back in that. You’re usually stuck with whatever the departments can provide, depending on your department that may be the look’s better.
At some departments, they look for something that’s a little more customizable. I know my agency actually has several different vests that are available. Generally speaking, there is one vest that is issued to male officers and a second vest that is assigned for women that’s available for the female officers, has probably better than a lot of agencies. But again, you are stuck with what they are providing. And I’ll tell you right now, the vest that the department is providing provide great protection but they’re also about as stiff as plywood and maybe it’s just part of the new NIJ Standards but we’re not very flexible and a lot of guys don’t like them nearly as much as some of the older vest.
So, what you have is you’ve got officers that probably are wearing vest that are about time to be retired just because they have been in service longer but quite frankly they are more comfortable. So, some officers are more willing to wear the older vest and run the risk of performance issues just because they are that much more comfortable.
Fortunately, vests don’t degrade nearly as quickly as most folks think and even though the recommendation is five years for most duty vest to be swapped out. Generally speaking, a vest that is not abused, that’s just worn normally a part of patrol, will probably do beyond five years time with no significant degradation of performance.
Something that you definitely need to consider whether you’re buying your own vest or your department looking to provide vest is — The vest should stop whatever round you carry in your pistol. For example, if your carrying .45 pistol, chances are any of the vest being made will stop the .45 round and .45 is a wide round at relatively low velocity and it’s not going to penetrate a vest very easily.
On the other hand, if your department is going to say a .357 SIG or your carrying a 9 mm with like the Winchester 127 gr +P+, those rounds will penetrate much farther into a vest so whereas a level 2A vest maybe appropriate or acceptable for stopping a .45 calibre round. They are not going to be appropriate for a .357 sig or a high velocity 9 mm or even necessarily some higher velocity .40 cals either.
So, make sure that you match up your vest to what you are carrying, your ammunition and your duty gun. And no matter what vest you get, if it’s concealable vest it is not going to stop rifle rounds, not going to do it. So, .223 you’re carrying as a rifle in your car is going to go right through the vest. Some of the different things that we’re seeing out here on the road, whether it’s .223 from an AR or .762 from an AK which are both — They’re not high powered rounds, they’re sill going to go through a vest, certainly if you’re getting your high power rounds like your 300 Win Mags, those types of things that people use for hunting. Those are going to get right through a vest.
So, have reasonable expectations of the performance of your vest. We’re talking about stopping hand gun rounds. Now, you can get different plates to go into your vest. Generally, for talking about a concealed body armor, you ‘re going to be able to put some type of plate, maybe a six inch by eight inch plate, or a seven inch by ten inch, just depends on your manufacturers – what size pouch they put in.
But going over this sternum area basically, on the front panel of the body armor, you can put in one of these plates. They’ve been alternately called “trauma plates” or “strike plates,” different things. And they can be soft plates which are really nothing more than additional ballistic materials, soft Kevlar or spectra that is going to help just with the blunt force impact.
And there are definitely good things being said for that. They are lighter weight, and they’re going to be less expensive, and in fact, most vests probably come with a soft pack like that. I definitely recommend taking a look at some of the hard plate options that are out there.
There are some from different manufacturers. They’re designed to handle special threats. And by special threats, we’re talking about handgun rounds that are generally lighter weight bullets that are at high velocity that maybe able to penetrate normal body armor.
Again, we’re talking about things such as the Winchester 127 gr. +P+. Most, if not all, I believe, 3A body armor, which is the thickest, heaviest body armor that can be concealed on duty. I think most of those vests are going to stop that round just like they’re going to stop most of the .357 SIG rounds.
But most of your special threat trauma plates are definitely going to stop those. They’re designed specifically to stop those. So, even if you’re not carrying one of those — if you’re carrying a .45, and you’re wearing maybe a 2A or a 2 vest, you may still want to get one of those plates in case you encounter somebody that is using one of those types of hand guns, you’ve got a little bit of extra protection on your most vital areas.
There are some trauma plates that are out there that actually start to kind of push the balance, if you will, between handgun and rifle. On the bluesheepdog.com website, I posted a video of the cobra strike plate. All companies in Kentucky are manufacturing vests and the strike plates. And they pump all sorts of nasty rounds into this Cobra Strike Plate, and it stops them. So, it’s definitely something to consider.
There’s also a plate out there called the “Impact ST” which I believe is made by BAE who owns Safariland, and a couple of other company — body armor companies, and it is also designed for some special threats. But there are definitely different things that are out there. Take a look. Most of your special threat plates are going to run you somewhere between $75 to a $150, and certainly, they’re worth it.
So, I mention for, about the external vest versus a concealable vest. And there are definitely advantages to both. If you think of the external vest, think of being almost like a raid jacket or a raid vest, only it’s going to be worn by uniformed patrol officers. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, they’ve been popular, and countries outside the United States for patrol officers. But, you’ve actually started seeing now inside the United States more agencies, if not issuing them, certainly authorizing them for wear on duty.
Now, they do have a few more benefits. I’ve not worn one, but I’ve had other officers tell me that they are more comfortable. And certainly, if you’re wearing body armor I can tell you right now from working in the South all of my life that body armor — it’s hot, it’s sticky, it isn’t fun.
You’re standing out at 5:30 in the afternoon on asphalt directing traffic around a wreck, it sucks. And there is no other way about it.
If you’re working in Maine for example, where the high may be 80 degrees and there’s low humidity it’s not going to be that big of a deal. Perhaps, if you’re working down where I do, in Florida, and it’s 96 degrees and it’s about 90% humidity, every little bit you can do to lighten your load or cool things off is needed.
So, in those cases, the external vest may be good. It may be more comfortable. Certainly, I would say that it would be easier to add higher protection level plates. You can probably put some rifle plates in to some of these external vests even if you don’t wear the rifle plate on a regular basis.
If you are responding to a call where you suspect there’s somebody there that is armed, on the way to the call or as soon as you get there, you can take a rifle plate out of your trunk or out of the bag on your seat or wherever you’re carrying it. Slide it into your vest. So, that would definitely be an advantage to the external vest.
Conversely, there are some advantages to the concealed vest which are going to be weaknesses for the external vest. First of all the, the external vests are obvious whereas he concealable vest are not as obvious.
Now, we know that there have been quite a few police officers killed by people that were intentionally aiming for the head — aiming for the officers head. And there’s not a lot we can do about that per se. I mean, we can’t force somebody not to shoot at our heads. But if we have an external vest on, it becomes a little more obvious to somebody that maybe they should be shooting for our head whereas if you’re not — if it’s concealed vest, they may not consciously be thinking about that.
There are some people that we will encounter that will already have a game plan mapped out in their head and there’s nothing we can do to change that. And they already know, they’ve already trained that when they’re going to encounter a police officer they’re going to shoot the officer in the head, whereas there are other people that, maybe, have considered that but they’re not necessarily thinking about it when — when the moment comes — when combat arrives.
And if you’re wearing an external vest that’s very visible that may be enough of a visual cue for them to shift their point of aim, which obviously we don’t want them to do. So, that’s one potential problem.
The other potential problem, and I guess, this should have been obvious to me, but I actually had one of our friends in Canada talk about this recently. And that is, the external vest gives a bad guy something to hold on to and something to control you in a fight.
And if you think about it, that’s absolutely true. If you’re tied up with somebody or wrestling with somebody you’re trying to take somebody to the ground, and you’re wearing external vest. They can hook on to the vest around the neckline or an armpit. Or if you Catlike hoist strap or something on it or underneath it. And they can use that vest against you. They can use it for leverage. They can maybe pull it over you or they may even be abler, remove it from you.
And those are definitely huge disadvantages. The comfort aspect and the ability out of rifle plate maybe that for your environment, maybe that gives you some definite benefits over the concealable — I don’t know, it’s an individual decision.
Last but not the least, I want to touch the concept of mandatory wear policies. I talked about earlier when I think a — vest should be worn. But I didn’t talk about when the department should tell you “You absolutely have to wear a vest.” Well, a lot of people may disagree with me and that’s okay. But I think departments should absolutely have mandatory wear policies.
There are a lot of things that police officers do or don’t do because they figure they’re invincible. They may not consciously think that but in the back of their mind, they kind of do. But that didn’t happen to me. That happens to somebody else. They don’t wear their seat belt when they’re responding to calls. They don’t wear their vests because it’s hot out or whatever. And they’re the ones that get into a wreck in time because they weren’t wearing their seat belts. Or they’re the ones that get out to talk to the juvenile and get shot because they weren’t wearing their vest. They die.
Okay. And that’s the reason why I think that we have to have mandatory wear policies. We mandate that all officers wear uniform. We mandate that officers carry fire arms and other weapons for self-defense. We mandate that these officers have various levels of training. We mandate that these officers appear to a standard of conduct, okay? I think that we can also mandate that officers wear body armor. Body armor should be considered a part of the uniform. Just like the gun is, just like the rifle for shot gun are. You know what? You don’t like it, I understand. But you either have to accept it and deal with it or perhaps you need to really re-evaluate what your perception of law enforcement is. We go after the bad people in the society.
When the crap hits the fan, we’re the ones that go toward the gunshots, not away from the gunshots. Everyone else in society has the option of fighting or running. We don’t have that choice. When people’s lives are in danger, we go toward the threat. We get toward the violence. And frequently, we have to do that on our own. Frequently, we have to do that even though the bad guys maybe have better guns or better people. They’re in an entrenched position, whatever. Okay. We’ve got a lot of things tacked against us.
A body armor, a vest — It’s sort of like a seat belt, it’s sort of like a fire extinguisher. It gives us a second chance when things, bad things, have happened. And if you get shot, and you’re shot in the body armor, it’s going to hurt but you’re still on the fight. And you can still win that fight.
Right now we’ve got an incredible number of police officers that have been killed this year. We’re trending upwards from last year, especially on a number of officers killed by fire arms. But if we want to look at strictly just the straight numbers, we still have fewer officer deaths, a lot fewer officer deaths this year than we did ever to any point during the 1970s. It kind of interests me because in the 70s, we had a lot of the same civil strife in the financial and economic problems, and wars overseas, and all the things that we’ve got going on now. We had domestic terrorism, we had external terrorism. We had planes being hijacked and everything else.
Okay, there are a lot of parallels between now and the 1970s in the United States. But yet we have far fewer officers being killed on average than we did back then. Part of it is our training has changed. Part of it is also, police officers now are far more likely to be wearing a vest. And I think, that’s probably one of the key critical points is that if we’re saving a lot of officers’ lives because the officers are wearing vests. And doesn’t it make sense to make that, just standard operating procedure?
If you’re on duty, you’re wearing a vest. I think it does. We have unfortunately seen police officers this year that had been killed because they weren’t wearing a vest, but didn’t necessarily have to die because of that.
They’re, say, police officer in Saint Petersburg, Florida. And this one hits home a little bit because there are a lot of guys that I’ve worked with, a lot of guys that I know that knew this officer and they were friends with this officer. And this officer wasn’t wearing his vest and he’s responding to rather simple call. Suspicious person, supposed to be some kid looking in the windows of cars in the downtown area. We’ve all been to those and whether or not they’re actually — something they generally wind up being things that we can’t do much more than just do an FIR on.
If we see a kid, and they don’t take off running, and they will talk to us, you’d do an FIR and you go by your business, right? That or you get there and yes, there’s a car broken into. But, you know, have many friends, whatever, right? A relatively low risk call in the grand scheme of things.
So, officer rolls up down there, he sees a kid. He’s back up is not on scene yet. He sees a kid, he steps off the car to talk with a kid. The kid turns around and shoots him. The officer dies. The officer didn’t have to die. The officer wasn’t wearing his vest. If the officer had been wearing his vest, maybe he wouldn’t have died that day. But instead now, we got a juvenile in the court system who may or may not be kept in prison for all that long of a time. And we have a police officer that’s been murdered.
And I understand, it’s hot. I get it. Saint Petersburg, Florida. It’s hot during the summer time. I totally understand it. But you can’t take back that bullet. All right. My voice is starting to give out on me a little bit. So we go ahead and wrap up things. I want everyone to stay safe out there.
Watch yourselves. Back up your partners. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t make any assumptions about any call. Things are dangerous out there and they’re not likely to get better in the near future. There are a lot of problems going on. If you have read the August newsletter, then you probably have a little bit an idea on kind of what I’m referring to. But it’s just my opinion, “Things aren’t going to be getting any better in the near future”.
So we’ve got to watch out for each other. Make sure we’re out there doing the right thing. And just make sure we practice all other officers’ safety techniques. Stay safe.