Through its Standards and Testing Program, NIJ fosters the development and implementation of standards and associated conformity assessment programs for the unique equipment that criminal justice agencies use.
NIJ identifies the need for new or improved standards or conformity assessment programs by systematically engaging criminal justice practitioners in discussions about their work. This process helps identify shortfalls in practitioners' capabilities that might be addressed by technology. Developing a new technology might be one way to address a shortfall. Developing a performance standard for a technology or an improved conformity assessment program might be another way.
When required, NIJ develops and implements standards and conformity assessment programs. Whenever practical, it adopts existing standards or adapts them to the needs of the criminal justice community. To the extent possible, NIJ supports public and private organizations' development of standards and conformity assessment programs to speed their introduction into practice. NIJ scientists and engineers often participate in projects with other standards development organizations. For example, an NIJ engineer is currently leading the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA's) development of NFPA 1986, Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Technical and Tactical Operations.
NIJ develops standards through a consensus process. Committees composed of corrections officers and other criminal justice practitioners, scientists, test laboratory personnel, and conformity assessment experts write the standards. Major relevant stakeholder organizations, such as the American Correctional Association, the American Probation and Parole Association, the American Jail Association, and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, review the standards. NIJ also seeks manufacturers' input, mainly through workshops and public comment periods.
There are two major purposes for developing standards this way. First, NIJ believes that the people who will use the equipment are best suited to understand what it should be able to do. For example, a committee that included representatives from both the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Colorado Department of Corrections developed NIJ Standard 1001.00, Criminal Justice Restraints, which addresses new technologies and four different types of restraints. Second, this process helps ensure that there is a community consensus about the requirements.
NIJ is not a regulatory agency, so its performance standards are voluntary. Neither manufacturers nor criminal justice agencies need to adopt these standards. However, there are reasons for both to do so. Manufacturers are incentivized to meet the standards' performance requirements, because they reflect the consumers' requirements. On the purchasing side, the standards give public safety agencies the ability to compare different types of equipment against a common set of benchmarks.
Standards can also raise the bar for equipment performance by promoting market-driven competition. Each manufacturer will seek to differentiate its product from similar products by improving its performance, leading to the introduction of safer, more effective products.
NIJ's oldest compliance testing program — testing body armor to the then–National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standard 0101.01, Ballistic Resistance of Police Body Armor — was established in 1978. Currently, NIJ directly supports compliance testing programs for two types of equipment: body armor and autoloading pistols.
NIJ actively engages with private-sector organizations to expand the number of conformity assessment programs addressing criminal justice products. For example, the Safety Equipment Institute now tests the protective ensembles used by public safety bomb squads to NIJ Standard 0117.01, Public Safety Bomb Suit Standard.
 "NFPA 1986: Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Technical and Tactical Operations Exit Notice", National Fire Protection Association, accessed December 5, 2016.