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This load-bearing vest offers body armor protection in a uniform look

BlueStone Safety’s vests offer a discreet alternative to traditional uniform tops by offering a professional look coupled with the ability to increase officer safety and lessen the load typically meted out by heavy duty belts

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The custom load-bearing vest carrier used by Plover (Wisconsin) PD includes pouches to hold Level IV rifle plates.

Sponsored by BlueStone Safety

By Alex Ulibarri for Police1 BrandFocus

The duty belt is a staple of every police officer’s equipment and often the final piece of the uniform that he or she will don before reporting to line-up or their assigned duty station. For many, it can be a pain-inducing, circulation-restricting, mobility-inhibiting nightmare. With duty belts typically carrying a service weapon, TASER, handcuffs, a radio, OC spray and duty magazines, it’s easy to see how this addition of 20 pounds of equipment presents a strain to the officer’s hips and back, as the weight is distributed along the circumference of the duty belt. BlueStone Safety seeks to remedy this with their custom load-bearing vest, which shifts the weight from the hips and back to the shoulders, which are much more well-suited to the task.

BlueStone Safety isn’t the first to create a load-bearing vest, but they stand out from the pack in that their offering is truly customizable and specifically tailored to fit the individual officer. In doing this, they allow officers to maintain a professional appearance without the excess material that often comes with an ill-fitting, pre-sized uniform.

Even better is that BlueStone Safety’s load-bearing vests are made to accommodate any brand of Level II or Level IIIA soft body armor, made to the size and shape of the panels that each officer specifically has. In addition, it can be fortified by adding Level IV body armor plates into an external pocket.

This ability to discreetly protect themselves while maintaining the uniform look gives officers and departments peace of mind knowing they have that extra level of protection at the ready should they encounter threats requiring a higher level of body armor.

Uniform look

With current trends toward community policing, many law enforcement agencies are opting for a friendlier, less tactical look to their vests. When combined with a collared undershirt bearing department insignia on the sleeves, BlueStone Safety’s vest looks both professional and practical while still offering all the features that enhance officer safety.

“Officers that have switched to the load-bearing vest have expressed an appreciation for the option provided to them,” said Sgt. Brandon Dohms of the Eau Claire Police Department in Wisconsin, whose officers wear BlueStone Safety’s load-bearing vests. ”For decades, the primary manner for officers nationwide to carry equipment has been a duty belt. The load-bearing vest provided us with a level of professional appearance with daily functionality that was important to our officers and administration.”

BlueStone Safety’s load-bearing vests are made to each chief’s or sheriff’s exact specifications. But the customization doesn’t end with aesthetics – the vests are made with flexibility to customize the pockets on the vest to each individual officer’s needs.

OC spray pocket on the right? TASER pocket on the left for a cross-draw? Magazine pouch under a breast pocket? BlueStone Safety has it covered, regardless of your desired configuration. Not only does this provide additional locations for equipment access, it also allows officers of smaller stature to carry equipment they may not previously have had the real estate to carry on their duty belt.

“We were able to work with BlueStone Safety to utilize the chosen space as efficiently as possible to make room for all of our required equipment,” said Dohms.

Better for your back

Besides giving officers storage options, one of the real draws of a load-bearing vest is its ability to transfer weight from the hips and back and redistribute that weight to the shoulders. Sure, some opt for suspenders to allocate this weight from the belt in a similar manner that a load-bearing vest would, but, as a patrol officer, I can tell you from experience that once you have a clasp snap or experience the dreaded feeling of having them pull your duty pants too high when you bend a certain way, you’ll likely reconsider.

It’s not just BlueStone Safety touting the back-saving benefits of a load-bearing vest. Eau Claire PD participated in a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire and the Mayo Clinic comparing officer comfort with a duty belt versus a load-bearing vest provided by BlueStone Safety. The findings were telling: Officers wearing a load-bearing vest were found to have substantially fewer incidents of end-of-shift back pain compared to their duty-belt wearing peers. Further, the study found no negative health-related consequences of wearing a load-bearing vest as opposed to a duty belt.

Couple this with the fact that officers wearing load-bearing vests no longer have cuffs or that pesky flashlight poking them in the ribs, it’s clear that officer comfort is greatly enhanced when wearing a load-bearing vest. In fact, after being test subjects for the University of Wisconsin/Mayo Clinic study, Eau Claire PD decided to have BlueStone Safety be the official supplier of load-bearing vests to the department.

“Officers have provided feedback that since switching to the load-bearing vests, they have experienced less discomfort while working,” said Dohms. “The load-bearing vest provides an alternative to the typical duty belt commonly utilized by officers. Although some officers still utilize a more classic duty belt option, the majority of our officers have switched to the load-bearing vest to increase comfort while on duty.”

Discreet body armor protection

Typically, officers have been limited in their ability to protect themselves from threats greater than what standard soft body armor offers. Modern soft body armor vests work well against handgun rounds but are easily defeated by most rifle-caliber weapons. In most cases, to gain adequate protection from rifle rounds, officers opt for a Level IV armor plate carrier that goes over their current uniform. While this offers adequate protection from rifle threats, the external plate carrier can be cumbersome to don and can impede access to critical gear.

Since BlueStone Safety’s load-bearing vest is customized for each individual officer, it can fit any brand of Level II or IIIA soft armor issued to that officer. By request, the vest can also include a hidden Level IV rifle plate pocket on the front and/or back of the vest that allows officers to easily slide their rifle plates in when needed, giving them a layer of rifle-rated armor protection.

Inserting the Level IV rifle plate right into the load-bearing vest takes less time than it takes to don an external plate carrier and still gives officers access to all the gear in their load-bearing vest while maintaining a nondescript look.

Beat the heat

As a police officer in North Texas, I can tell you that our summers can get absolutely brutal. I remember several times during my time as a patrolman that I would be stuck on a call in the sun on a hot July or August day and would make a feeble attempt to pull away the top of my vest from my body, trying to rid myself of the heat. Normal uniforms require that the vest be worn under the uniform shirt, and with many officers wearing shirt stays or tucking systems, it can be a real pain to remove the vest to cool off. It was never really effective, and I usually got a whiff of the sauna-like air that escaped, which was never pleasant!

Blue Stone Safety addresses this with their custom load-bearing vest, which features side panels that can open up to release body heat. The carrier is also easily removable, making it a cinch to take off for a meal break or while at the station.

What’s more is that when a proper polo-type shirt is worn under the carrier, the officer is still able to maintain a professional appearance while cooling off. This is a real boon to officers. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are serious, especially in locales that have brutal summers and the ability to increase officer comfort and safety is yet another key benefit that Blue Stone custom load-bearing vest offers its users.

The practical, back-saving design, plus the ballistic protection and professional appearance of BlueStone Safety’s custom load-bearing vests can satisfy everyone in the department, from the chief concerned about a uniform look and good value to the beat cop looking to avoid feeling beat-down at the end of a shift.

BlueStone Safety offers a two-year warranty for craftsmanship and materials on their products, all made in the USA.

Learn more about BlueStone Safety.

Read next: The hidden benefits of reducing LEOs’ back pain

About the author

Alex Ulibarri is a patrol officer and school resource officer with a police agency in North Texas. He is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice.