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5 questions every cop should ask about their body armor

Understanding how a vest protects officers is critical to ensuring daily wear of ballistic protection


There are hundreds of police officers alive today because their armor got in the way of a slug aimed in his or her direction.


Next to the duty weapon slung from your belt, and perhaps a backup gun tucked somewhere else, your body armor is the most vital piece of equipment you don every day.

There are hundreds of police officers alive today because their armor got in the way of a slug aimed in his or her direction.

Below 100 – a training program designed to reduce line of duty death and injury that focuses on areas under an officer’s control – has five core tenets:

  • Wear your seat belt;
  • Wear your vest;
  • Watch your speed;
  • WIN – What’s Important Now?;
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

The Below 100 concept of “What’s Important Now?” feeds back into everything a police officer does from getting up in the morning to going to bed a night. As a cop, you’re faced with analyzing information and making decisions on the basis of that information every day of your life. Using the Below 100 WIN concept, here are the five questions you need to ask about your body armor.

1. How is body armor constructed?

If you’re new to armor, you might not be aware that there are a lot more parts to it than you see on TV or in the movies. The rubber meets the road, so to speak, at the ballistic panels. Usually there are two of them; one in front and one in back. The panels fit into a carrier, which can be designed to fit under or over your uniform. Other standard parts might be separate shoulder and waist straps. Carriers also can be equipped with drag handles, equipment pockets, or a Molle system.

2. What kind of protection does my armor offer?

WIN means that cops should know exactly what protection their vest will offer so that they can make better decisions while wearing it. Most modern armor is woven from a flexible material that can stop many handgun rounds and, for added protection, some carriers have pockets to hold additional soft or hard plates that are designed to stop knives or specific rifle rounds. Cops need to ask their agency which NIJ standard(s) their vest and plates are designed to meet.

3. How do I ensure a proper fit?

While a cop’s agency probably will choose the brand and perhaps the carrier style, WIN means that cops have the responsibility to ensure that their armor will fit them properly before it is purchased or if they lose or gain weight. Perhaps their agency will allow them to choose between an under-uniform or external carrier. While ballistic panels can be moved between carrier types, cops need to talk to trusted peers and do some research if they’re only allowed to wear one carrier style. Remember that if a cop gains enough weight, they will lose protection where the front and back panels no longer meet.

The type of casual fitting done for bridesmaid or groomsman outfits can get a cop killed if applied to a ballistic vest fitting. Female cops don’t get fitted the same way as their male counterparts. If you don’t like the fit, say something; if it’s uncomfortable, say something. You’re going to be living with your armor for at least the next five years.

4. Do I really need to wear armor all the time?

I like to answer this question with another question: Do you keep a round chambered in your duty weapon, or do you make like a TV actor and rack the slide as you’re moving towards danger? Yes, you really need to wear it all the time. With the increasing number of ambushes occurring lately, you never know when you will be targeted. Cops can only be saved by their armor if they choose to wear it every day, every shift. Survivors say that they never expected to be shot when the incident occurred. Donning armor when you need it is too late.

5. How do cops care for their armor?

The use and care of a cop’s body armor vest is essential to maintaining its life throughout the warranted period. That means not putting it away wet, knowing how to clean and deodorize it, how to store it, and, most importantly, knowing how to dissemble and reassemble its parts the right way. Each manufacturer and model has very specific instructions for cleaning and storage and some may have YouTube videos to help you.

Treat your armor as you would treat any piece of equipment that can save your life one day – because it just might do that. Learn what it can and cannot do for you and encourage your brothers and sisters to do the same. Finally, think about signing and following the Below 100 pledge so that you come back to what really matters most after every shift – your family.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.