I just returned from the Southeast Regional Warrior Symposium in Orlando, Fla. I had the privilege to stand with some of the finest police officers and military fighters in the world and hear from them on a host of topics. The issue of body armor was the center of one discussion—and it’s worth additional consideration.
The history of individual armor reaches far back in antiquity. One of our group members commented that the recent picture of the Spartan warrior with a flowing cape and bare body was wrongly portrayed. He said the Spartan warrior was heavily armored and that warriors who fought without armor didn’t make out well. When arrows were flying and blades slashing, a protective barrier was a life-or-death matter.
Do the advances in civilization and technology over the many centuries change anything about this thinking? Are you any less wounded or dead if the damage comes from an arrow, lance, knife or bullet? Police officers working the streets aren’t on historical battle fields of massed armies, but deadly dangers exist in other forms. The advanced technology of weaponry is still in large measure offset by the advances in personal armor construction. Ultimately, the only question then is whether you have and are wearing your body armor.
First, do you have armor? And if not, why?
Ways to Get It
Since the introduction of soft, wearable body armor by Richard Davis in the early 1970s, more than 3,000 law officers have been saved from serious injury or death. What further proof do we need that every police officer should own and use body armor? Whether worn in a standard undershirt vest carrier or an outside carrier, no officer going into harm’s way should be unprotected. Yet I still hear about officers from around the nation who have no armor and no money to buy it.
One solution is the DOJ’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP). “Designed to provide a critical resource to state and local law enforcement,” according to their website, more than 13,000 jurisdictions have participated in the BVP Program since 1999. At this time, more than $277 million in federal funds has been committed to support the purchase of an estimated 800,000 vests. For more information about this program, visit www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bvpbasi.
Application to the program is simple, and you can get up to 50% of the vest cost covered through the BVP funding. The list of approved companies and selection of armor models is huge, including both uniform and tactical models. You can work out the best discount from the factory sales representative—often approaching 45–50% of retail value—and then get the additional 50% paid for by the BVP funding. It may get close to the point where you’re only paying 25–30% of the retail value out of your budget or pocket. I respectfully suggest that every officer make that work, if their department will sign up for the program.
Another resource is the Federal LESO 10-33 program. The 10-33 program allows surplus military equipment to be offered to law enforcement agencies at low or no cost. The database of gear is searchable online and there are incredible offerings that span every conceivable piece of gear. Body armor may be among current offerings. To sign up as a LESO member agency, visit www.dispositionservices.dla.mil/index.shtml.
If not the BVP or LESO, what else can you do? Civic organizations in hometown America have been great supporters of law enforcement. Seek out your local chamber of commerce and get a listing of the civic groups that you can speak with. A plea for assistance will often yield the funds you need. Our financial times are difficult but the character of hometown America is one of service and giving. Ask and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
As an example of community partnership, have a look at the “Adopt a Cop” program of Lexington, S.C., by visiting www.lexsc.com/police_adopt_a_cop.htm.
Another solution comes from a group of police officers who formed the Armor of God Ministry. Law Officer contributor and my friend, Capt. Travis Yates of Tulsa PD, and his partners formed the ministry to provide body armor to those sworn law officers who have been without.
This organization takes in used armor from LEOs and agencies and locates those who need it. Used armor is far better than no armor. Lives have been saved by “outdated” armor. What better use for those sets of armor sitting in boxes in storerooms of stations sidelined but still very useful?
What about issues of liability? Expiration dates? They deal with the legal issues of sending and accepting used armor. The important point Capt. Yates makes is that any certified armor you wear is far better than none at all. You can read the testimonials and information on their site for proof at www.vestforlife.com/saves.php.
Outer Carry Vests
The first armor of the 1970s consisted of two ballistic nylon pads, with no side protection, worn under the shirt. By the ’80s, vest materials greatly improved with the introduction of Kevlar. Vest technology continues to improve and many of today’s best vests are actually made of multiple high-tech fibers including Kevlar, Dyneema, Spectra and others. These new vests provide reduced weight along with increased side protection. This greater level of coverage increases the effectiveness of the armor but the design also traps body heat. In hot weather, body armor worn in the traditional “under-uniform” carrier can be very uncomfortable.
There have been several attempts at outside vest carriers, but the early versions were like down vests and weren’t practical for anything other than winter wear. That changed with the design of an outside vest carrier that had the look of a uniform shirt and blended with the existing uniform.
In the Chicago region, this concept was refined by J&G Uniforms, a company that produces a series of outside carriers that blend in with the uniform shirt. The carriers include additional pockets for small items, such as protective gloves, flashlight, radio and magazine pouches. On any call, you’ll work—or fight—with what you bring. I, along with most of my officers, choose to wear this type of carrier. Key advantages include fast donning and doffing, and the ability to open the sides to allow heat venting.
We have a reflective panel that says “POLICE” sewn on the rear of the carrier for higher visibility at night when doing traffic work or out on the street. Some may argue that this is an unprofessional appearance or that armor shouldn’t be seen. There was a time when I might have agreed. No longer.
The fact that we wear armor is no surprise to anyone. As to how we appear, the outside vest carrier has a professional journeyman look. You carry the tools of the trade and appear squared away and good to go. As I travel the nation, there are regions where officers are unaware of the outside carrier option. More companies are adding this to their clothing lines, and I expect that there will be greater sales and use by police officers. If you haven’t checked them out, you owe it to yourself to do so. Anything that encourages the wearing of armor is a positive development.
Finally, a point I’ve been driving home as part of the Below 100 initiative: If you have armor and choose not to wear it—for whatever reason—you aren’t protected. More importantly, you aren’t ready to properly perform your job and may put others at risk trying to rescue you unnecessarily. As an LEO, you never know what call is coming next. You might be targeted without ever seeing your attacker. Bottom line: Wear your armor! Always. Let us live by this credo: I will honor my family, my fellow officers and my community by wearing my armor. Remember: Below 100 is our mission and each of us is individually responsible to live its tenets.