How smart manufacturing makes this body armor affordable for every cop
Stay within your department’s budget while still protecting your officers
Sponsored by BulletSafe
By Kenny Sokan for Police1 BrandFocus
Law enforcement is a dangerous profession. We’re living during a time when seemingly routine encounters can easily turn violent. Mass shootings in small towns and big cities are regularly-featured news. Amid a global pandemic, gun violence is soaring and civil unrest is gripping the nation. Now, especially, is a terrible time to be under-equipped.
Firearms remain one of the biggest threats to police officers in the United States, and it's impossible to predict when a police officer may encounter a suspect armed with one. According to data collected by the National Institute of Justice from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program, between 1987 and 2015, more than 70,000 officers were assaulted with firearms, and of the 1,708 officers feloniously killed in the line of duty during that period, 1,574 (92%) were killed by firearms.
Unfortunately, insufficient federal funding can leave some police departments struggling to provide their officers with critical safety equipment, such as protective vests. This piece of equipment alone has saved the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers over 30 years. However, a single ballistic vest can cost from several hundred to over a thousand dollars.
For a police department using their own money to pay for equipment, that’s a steep price to pay, and a department shouldn’t have to choose between their budget and protecting the lives of their officers. Now, they may not have to, thanks to BulletSafe.
Founded in 2013, this company manufactures Level IIIA ballistic vests, designed to stop most handgun rounds up to a .44 magnum, available for just $299.
How BulletSafe Bulletproof Vests were born
Back in the 1990s, BulletSafe founder Tom Nardone was working as a military equipment test engineer. While working for a defense helicopter company, Nardone had his first interaction with Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE or PE) – tough plastic with high abrasion and wear resistance. It had been used to create a bullet-resistant fuel tank Nardone was assigned to test.
At the time, Kevlar was the industry favorite for ballistic products, but upon testing it, Nardone found that the PE fuel tank liner performed just as well as the Kevlar. This was a significant discovery, considering that PE costs 70% less than Kevlar.
This discovery saved the company a lot of money, and Nardone was curious to see if PE would make its way into protective vest manufacturing – with PE, he thought, the cost could go down significantly. Nearly 20 years later, Nardone walked into a store that sold ballistic vests. The vests cost the same as they did in the 1990s, but now they were made of PE. How this could be?
How is BulletSafe able to provide quality bulletproof vests for a fraction of the cost?
Aside from material sources, a lot of factors go into body armor pricing, including design and fit, protection level, durability and production costs. Nardone found that custom cut and fitting, lack of volume production and poorly sourced materials, as well as the particular sales process for protective vests and the federal Patrick Leahy Bulletproof Vest Partnership itself, all contribute to the high cost of ballistic vests.
Determined to find a way to make vests more affordable, Nardone and his wife, a marketing expert, interviewed 100 security guards to find out what price they could afford. Their answer? $299, matching what Nardone had imagined all those years ago. With that, in 2013, Nardone started BulletSafe, producing Level IIIA vests made from PE that pass the NIJ standard and sell for just $299 apiece. BulletSafe has been able to maintain this price for seven years.
Although many law enforcement agencies prefer custom-fitted vests in multiple colors, the simple design of the black BulletSafe vests gets the job done while saving buyers hundreds. The vests are created using a standardized height and weight chart, with seven sizes available – from XS to 4XL – and large hook-and-loop areas to help achieve the desired shape and fit of each individual.
How BulletSafe offers protection from handguns and more
In addition to ballistic protection, BulletSafe vests also offer stab and slash protection from knives, so the company classifies them as Level IIIA+. While this is not an official NIJ classification, some manufacturers use it to describe protective vests that offer multi-threat protection. Nardone handles the testing and certification of BulletSafe’s vests, and the vests are warrantied to maintain ballistic performance for five years.
For added protection, BulletSafe also manufactures removable ballistic plates. When inserted into the vest carrier, upgrade the BulletSafe vest to Level IV, protecting individuals from rifle rounds up to a .30-06. Each plate is 11 7/8 inches tall, 10 inches across and 0.80 inches in depth. The plates are curved for a close fit to the body and come with a nylon cover to protect from sun damage and other typical wear and tear.
BulletSafe ships to every state except Connecticut, where body armor must be purchased through face-to-face sales. Interested buyers there can use the company’s “Find A Dealer” page. While the simple design of BulletSafe Bulletproof Vests may not have all the bells and whistles of those with a custom shape and fit, they check off every box where it matters most – keeping the bodies that wear them safe.
BulletSafe offers a variety of ballistic protection items, including caps and bandanas. Get more information at BulletSafe.com.
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