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30 Years, 3,000 Saves

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2006
5 pages
This article reviews the evolution of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) standards and testing for law enforcement officers' body armor, which has been in use for 30 years and has saved at least 3,000 officers' lives.
NIJ, in partnership with the U.S. Army, began developing lightweight body armor woven from Kevlar in the early 1970s. Field testing began in the summer of 1975, with 5,000 armors provided to 15 urban police departments. Less than 6 months later, an officer was saved from serious injury and possibly death in a shooting, followed by 17 other officers saved during the 1-year field test. During this same period, NIJ developed a performance standard for body armor in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, followed by a voluntary testing program. The standards and testing program, which still exists, enables body armor manufacturers to certify the performance and safety of new body armor. The NIJ standard establishes minimum performance requirements for armor, and the testing program tests armor against the standard. In November 2003, following an incident in which an officer's body armor failed to protect him from serious wounding, the U.S. Justice Department announced its Body Armor Safety Initiative. Its purpose is to address the reliability of body armor and to review the process by which body armor is certified. As part of this initiative, NIJ tested ballistic-resistant vests, new and used, made with Zylon. It also tested upgrade kits distributed by the manufacturer of the armor involved in the wounding incident. NIJ began a review of its standards and testing program for ballistic-resistant vests, which has resulted in interim changes to the standards and testing process. This article presents the results of these tests and summarizes changes to the standards and testing program. 9 notes
Date Published: October 1, 2006