In our personal lives, most of us do some research before we buy a new tool or piece of equipment. We want to make sure that what we buy works as it is supposed to and that we get our money’s worth. When criminal justice agencies purchase equipment, the stakes are higher. Equipment is costly, budgets are tight, and most importantly the lives of officers and the public often depend on that equipment functioning as promised.
One of our goals is to reduce the costs of developing standards and conformity assessment programs while keeping the same level of confidence in the equipment and products being developed.
For more than four decades, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has offered guidance for the procurement and use of technology and equipment for the law enforcement and public safety community. We fund the development of primers to help agencies understand the rationale behind the implementation of a technology and to help set expectations for its use; market surveys to give agencies a better idea of what may be available; and operational evaluations to better understand the impact on various outcomes of introducing a new technology.
One of our key functions is to develop performance standards for equipment that criminal justice agencies use and to provide for the testing of that equipment to ensure that it’s safe and effective. We identify 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 their capabilities that might be addressed by a new technology, performance standard for a technology, or an improved conformity assessment program.
The resulting standards and conformity assessment testing programs provide criminal justice agencies and officers with a level of confidence in a product’s fitness for purpose and allow comparison of products based on standardized test methods.
The standards articulate performance requirements rather than prescribe specific solutions, which leaves manufacturers and industry free to innovate; ultimately providing agencies and officers with more effective equipment.
NIJ standards are voluntary but have been widely adopted by federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice agencies, as well as by equipment manufacturers.
The NIJ standard for ballistic-resistant body armor, our best known standard, was published in 1972 and has been updated multiple times. Our body armor compliance testing program has tested thousands of models of armor, all voluntarily submitted by manufacturers. During the past three decades, ballistic-resistant soft body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 police officers.
Beyond ballistic-resistant body armor, NIJ maintains active standards for a variety of equipment including stab-resistant body armor, restraints, bomb suits, and CBRN protective equipment. Additionally, we are in the process of developing standards for civil disturbance unit personal protective equipment.
One of our goals is to reduce the costs of developing standards and conformity assessment programs while keeping the same level of confidence in the equipment and products being developed. This is not simply a budget-cutting move. The less we spend on any one standard and conformity assessment program, the more types of equipment we can address.
One way to accomplish that is to support the development of standards that address the needs of the criminal justice community by outside standards development organizations. Although these private standards may not be NIJ-published documents, our staff ensure that they include practitioner input so that they represent a consensus of best practices in the criminal justice community, just as NIJ-published standards would. For example, NIJ staff participate in standards development at ASTM International and the National Fire Protection Association.
Another way to expand the types of equipment addressed without increasing costs is to work with product certifiers to develop acceptable criteria by which NIJ would recognize private certification programs. We are piloting this approach by applying it to third-party testing and certification for the NIJ restraints standards.
The first step is the release of a product certification scheme that includes the rules, procedures, and management required for carrying out product certification, which involves the assessment and attestation by an impartial third party that fulfilment of specified requirements has been demonstrated by a product. By publishing the scheme, and not doing compliance testing ourselves, we are leveraging private sector capabilities and expertise at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
The scheme is intended primarily for those considering becoming certification scheme owners for the purpose of certifying restraints. The scheme also is intended for accreditation bodies that accredit certification bodies that may be considering certifying restraints to a scheme that includes laboratory testing of products to NIJ Standard 1001.00.
In the interest of both officer and public safety, we anticipate recognizing certification programs in the private sector that meet or exceed the minimum scheme requirements.
Certification bodies that are interested in developing a product certification scheme for restraints described in NIJ Standard 1001.00 should contact Mark Greene Policy and Standards Division, the Director of our Policy and Standards Division.
Howard Spivak, M.D.