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Body Armor Use, Care, and Performance in Real World Conditions: Findings from a National Survey

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2012
280 pages
This report describes research conducted regarding law enforcement officers' use of body armor, State and local law enforcement agencies' policies on the use of body armor; and exploratory research on the performance characteristics of older body armor compared to new body armor.
This study demonstrates that much progress has been made in the last decade in terms of law enforcement agencies providing body armor to officers, developing policies to require that officers use armor, educating officers about why they need armor, and how to care for and maintain it. The study identified that the understanding of the importance of, and adherence to, proper body armor care and maintenance procedures is vital and an area that needs improvement. Building on previous work conducted in 2005 and 2009, this current study was conducted from the officer's perspective, producing findings about the actual use of and attitudes toward body armor in addition to agency policies. The survey, conducted from October 2010 to May 2011, consisted of a national sample of sworn officers from randomly selected agencies reflecting a representative sample of agency sizes, types, and regions of the country. Major findings include: 1) Policies, i.e. "mandatory wear" requirements and written policies, requiring the use of body armor are increasingly prevalent; large majorities of officers report that they obey those policies; and large majorities of officers understand that armor is vital to their safety. 2) Most officers appear to be knowledgeable about body armor care and maintenance practices. However, a significant numbers of officers do not understand certain aspects of recommended procedures and do not always adhere to recommended practices even when they do understand them. And, 3) Ballistics testing of vests used in the field suggests some loss of performance over time. Preliminary ballistics research indicates that body armor may degrade although additional, real-time research and data collection about environmental and experiential factors that may impact the strength of body armor, rather than officers' recall of such factors as presented in this study, is necessary to verify this and provide guidance to police executives about the potential loss of effectiveness and the frequency of replacement.

Date Published: November 1, 2012