By: SafeGuard Clothing
Law enforcement professionals are on the front line of a daily war against society’s most dangerous individuals. We depend on police officers to keep our streets as safe as possible, and to do this, they need certain protective gear. Body armor can mean the difference between life and death in extreme situations, but only if used correctly.
On the November 6, 2014, Sgt. Michael Williams of East Orange, NJ was saved by his bulletproof vest after being fired upon several times by 29-year-old Robert O’Neil. Sgt. Williams fired back at O’Neil without hitting him, and the suspect escaped on foot. Sgt. Williams received some trauma to his abdomen from the bullets’ impact, but was released from the hospital after being treated.
While Sgt. Williams may not have expected to encounter gunfire, he wore the vest as a precaution and now lives to tell the tale. Despite how simple the concept of body armor may appear to some of us, certain precautions should be taken to get the most out of it: wearing any form of armor, regardless of its size and protection-rating, is not enough.
Read on, as SafeGuard Clothing discusses five ways to make body armor more effective for you.
Wearing the Right Size
No matter which type of body armor you need – ballistic, edged blade, spiked weapon – wearing the right size is absolutely essential for maximum coverage of the vital organs. A protective vest should sit comfortably against the torso, and be neither too big nor too small: if it is, you may find yourself encumbered with an impractical armor which still leaves you vulnerable to harm. An over-sized piece of armor may push up into your throat and shift position with each movement – a burden you simply can’t afford; on the other hand, an undersized vest may be restrictive, and leave certain organs without cover. Whether your armor is too big or too small, you’ll be unable to move as freely as you need to in volatile circumstances.
To be sure you have the right size, measure your height and chest before ordering, and check them against your supplier’s size chart. Also, take note of your comfort and flexibility when trying a vest on for the first time: stretch, run, crawl, jump – do everything you need to know you’ll remain unencumbered in the field.
Choose the Right Armor for the Right Situation
Unless you’re wearing a multi-purpose vest, you need to be sure you have the right protective vest for the level of danger you expect (though even multi-purpose armor only covers specific types of risk). Entering an armed siege with just a stab vest is a big mistake, as bullets will tear through the Kevlar; on the other hand, attempting to restrain a knife-wielding suspect could also prove fatal, as ballistic plates offer no reliable resistance against blades.
Ballistic armor is rated by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) from levels I to IV, providing protection against various ammunition types, from common 9mm rounds through to armor-piercing bullets. Level IV vests are essential for situations in which you expect high-velocity gunfire – SWAT teams typically wear these. Stab vests and spiked weapon vests feature tighter weaves than bulletproof armor (again in various levels), and the right level should be worn for the type of blades/spiked weapons you expect to encounter in a given situation; these may be best-suited to a correctional facility, as prisoners can craft sharp items from cutlery, wood etc.
Resisting the Temptation of Water
You need to be careful when cleaning a protective vest. While it can be tempting to just immerse it in water, you should never do this, as it can affect the fibers and negate its defensive capabilities. Instead, use a sponge and warm, soapy water, and leave it to dry in a dark, warm space (lie it flat). Never leave them out in direct sunlight, as UV rays may damage it during extended exposure.
Keeping Vests in Good Condition
Never wear body armor with signs of damage (bullet holes, slash-marks), no matter what. These can leave you exposed to harm. Wear a fresh one instead. Check vests regularly to ensure there are no holes, dents, scratches, or tears. If you notice one while wearing it, you may be in trouble already. Check your supplier’s warranty to see their policies on flaws in manufacturer – if your armor develops wear and tear over a certain period, without due cause, you may be able to request a replacement. Likewise, if your vest doesn’t provide the protection it claims to, speak with your supplier. Any armor carrying a specific rating must meet the demands it claims to.
Avoid Cutting Corners to Save Money
Not every police department can stretch its budget to cover a full range of body armor for every officer. However, this shouldn’t leave you unprotected. If you need to, you should be willing to pay for your own vest at your own expense. While higher-level armor can be expensive, avoid the temptation to cut corners and settle on a cheaper option: if a vest doesn’t offer the protection you’ll need in situations you expect to encounter on numerous occasions, then you shouldn’t depend on it. Go for the level you need, and buy more if you can afford it – having a wide range to suit all eventualities is hugely beneficial.