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Training Day: Body armor donning for tactical response

Once an officer receives a tactical vest, they need to be trained in their use to be able to knowledgeably and quickly add or reduce coverage


Many potentially lethal attacks are of the sudden assault variety, requiring officers to always be prepared.

AP Photo/John Locher, File

You all know the first rule of a gun fight: “Have a gun.”

The second rule of a gun fight could reasonably be: “Wear your body armor.”

If criminals would be so courteous as to make appointments for their deadly assaults, it would allow you to arrange for a safe bystander-free location, where you would have adequate assistance and superior firepower, would be wearing the proper threat-level vest, have a ballistic helmet top-side, possess the proper mindset, and even arrive at a position of advantage viewing the threat through the gun port of an armored rescue vehicle.

The problem is many potentially lethal attacks are of the sudden assault variety.

Therefore, police officers need to report to work most days overprepared for a gunfight that won’t take place just to ensure they arrive underprepared for that one shift when the gunfight does occur.

The low-threat “routine” convinces some officers to not only set aside their survival mind-set, but also to set aside their body armor. If you find yourself arriving at this level of complacency remember the North Hollywood shootout, Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Parkland, Las Vegas and Dallas…the list goes on.

Wear your vest and train with it

Witnessing my body armor-wearing partner take a 20 gauge slug at a violent domestic and survive convinced me to dedicate my life to encouraging other cops to, “Wear your vest!”

Vests have evolved considerably since the early days of drape and strap models. Now every officer or administrative vest-purchaser must be a learn-ed student of vest(s) before the purchase.

Even though there are only two categories of vests, overt and covert, the variety of makes, models, levels of protection and capabilities can make one’s head spin. There are vests that will protect you from knife slashes, handgun rounds, rifle rounds, shotgun blasts, fragmentation and even facilitate swimming if you work on water.

Vests have become at once more comfortable, adjustable, adaptable and flexible, allowing for more coverage while being much more functional. Overt tactical vests are all of these things. However, once an officer receives a tactical vest, they need to be trained in their use to be able to knowledgeably and quickly add or reduce coverage by adding/removing/adjusting:

  1. The throat protector;
  2. The deltoid protectors;
  3. The nape protector;
  4. The front/back/top/side protective panels;
  5. The groin protector.

Vests can be further individualized by adjusting the cummerbund for the perfect functional fit.

As you can imagine, each change in a vest’s configuration might slow, or restrict movement a bit, but the trade-off is you get considerably more coverage. Officers must also be trained to properly clean and store both their covert and overt vests, because improper cleaning and storing of a vest can compromise its effectiveness.

A personally set-up tactical vest not only can give you additional coverage, but enhance the officer’s response capabilities because they are also designed to serve as carriers equipped with:

  1. Wire restraints allowing for quick communication(s) hook-up;
  2. Drop pouches for equipment like tourniquets and chem lights;
  3. Ammo carriers;
  4. Pen holders;
  5. Weapon retention restraint for securing a long gun;
  6. Agency identification area.

An officer’s preference can make the set-up vary drastically. An officer can’t decide, however, how to set up his or her vest unless they are trained in the possibilities their tactical vest offers by an experienced training officer.

One operator who had experienced gun fights in war as a soldier and in peace as a police officer preferred to set up his vest so that only flat things such as ammo magazines and handcuffs were stored in the front of his vest/carrier. He said he had learned that when bullets are flying he preferred to be as close to the ground as possible by “staying slick.” Bulky items in the front of a vest will lift a body up into the path of incoming rounds.

Vest training skills should be ongoing

Once acquired, a vest needs to become an integral part of an officer’s training.

Too many officers wear a cool logo T-shirt or polo shirt to firearms training. This is neither tactical nor practical. To train like you will fight, you should wear the vest you will be wearing to your gun fight. Specific training should be experienced to develop an officer’s skills so that during events like an active shooter response, he or she can quickly:

  1. Don the tactical vest.
  2. Add rifle panels quickly, strike plate facing away from the body, when appropriate if they are not yet in place.
  3. Acquire equipment from and return it to the vest without taking eyes off the threat.
  4. Set up communications.
  5. Fire both handguns and long guns from strong and support (reaction) side accurately while wearing the vest. Many tactical vests have a specially designed no-skid surface for long gun stocks to better secure in place while shooting.
  6. Secure your long gun to transition to hands on activity and transition back to firearm reacquiring it from the retention position.
  7. Run, hit the deck, climb, perform subject control and fight with the vests on.

I should mention that active shooter armor kits are now available that allow an officer, who suddenly finds themselves at an in-progress active shooter, to quickly don their vest while on the move and over whatever they are wearing.


Training and continual use of your body armor will beget continual use of your body armor. This will ensure it will embrace and protect you during your gun fight, enabling you to prevail so that you might continue to embrace and protect your family.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.