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Bill would require updates to federal law enforcement body armor after FBI reports flaw for female officers

The FBI study revealed that traditional body armor, designed primarily for men, can cause bullets to deflect off the chest and hit the throat when worn by women

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FILE - A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plaque is displayed a podium as international passengers arrive at Miami international Airport where they are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Lynne Sladky/AP

By Joanna Putman

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan effort is underway to pass legislation aimed at providing federal law enforcement with improved ballistic body armor after an FBI report uncovered an issue in the way the armor can work for female officers, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen’s office announced in a news release.

The Better Ballistic Body Armor Act, which has cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, seeks to address a critical design flaw in current body armor that leaves female officers, and some male officers, vulnerable to potentially fatal ricochets, according to the release.

“Federal law enforcement officers in Nevada and across our nation put their lives on the line to protect our communities, and we owe it to them to keep them safe,” Rosen stated.

The impetus for this legislation stems from an FBI study revealing that traditional body armor, designed primarily for men, can cause bullets to deflect off the chest and hit the throat when worn by women, according to a Washington Times report.

The bill, championed by Senators Katie Britt (R-AL) and Gary Peters (D-MI), mandates that all Department of Homeland Security agencies provide their officers with the next generation of body armor tailored to fit female body contours, according to the report. The legislation passed unanimously in the committee on May 15, coinciding with National Police Week.

“Our brave Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. They deserve the best possible equipment to protect themselves when on the job,” Peters stated.

The issue of body armor inadequacies was highlighted when the U.S. Capitol Police, responding to an FBI alert, found similar vulnerabilities in their equipment, according to the report. Testing revealed that projectiles striking the upper chest area of female body armor could deflect into the neck region due to the armor’s nonplanar design.

In 2020, DHS’s Science and Technology division reported that focus groups of female officers found existing designs inadequate, as they did not conform well to their body contours, according to the report. This feedback has spurred the National Institute of Justice to update its standards and testing methods for female body armor.