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Developing Technology Standards

Date Published
December 10, 2009

NIJ identifies the need for new or improved standards and related conformity assessment programs through the same process it uses to identify the technology needs of the criminal justice community.

The process begins with systematically engaging criminal justice practitioners in discussions about their work. This can identify shortfalls in their capabilities that might be addressed by a new or improved piece of equipment, or by developing performance standards that articulate their performance requirements and that inform technology developers and manufactures regarding design specifications.

To the extent possible, NIJ supports the development of needed standards by other standards organizations. Learn more about how NIJ works with other standards organizations.

When it is necessary to develop new and update existing standards, NIJ follows this process:

  • Convening Special Technical Committees to define the equipment requirements and ensure that practitioner needs are addressed.
  • Publishing three documents for each standard that separately address the needs of practitioners, manufacturers, and testing laboratories.
  • Disseminating information to stakeholders and receiving their input.
  • Establishing a process for regular and necessary revisions to existing standards. 

Partnering With the Private Sector

NIJ collaborates with private-sector voluntary consensus standards bodies, such as the American National Standards Institute, ASTM International, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Safety Equipment Institute to foster development and maintenance of equipment performance standards needed by criminal justice agencies. Partnering with the private sector enables NIJ to speed the introduction of needed standards.

By participating directly in the development process with external organizations, NIJ scientists and engineers can provide criminal-justice-specific expertise and translate knowledge from the field to ensure that resulting standards consider and accurately reflect the needs of law enforcement officers and other criminal justice practitioners.

NIJ also works with the private sector to develop and maintain test methods that can be incorporated into new and revised NIJ standards. For example, NIJ in collaboration with other federal agencies supported the development of ASTM E3003, Standard Practice for Body Armor Wearer Measurement and Fitting of Armor.

See a list of laboratories and standards development organizations NIJ has worked with.

Special Technical Committee

NIJ establishes Special Technical Committees that collaborate to define the equipment requirements and ensure that practitioner needs are addressed.

Membership. The Special Technical Committees are practitioner-based committees of 20 to 25 experienced practitioners including scientists, subject matter experts, test laboratory personnel and conformity assessment experts associated with a particular NIJ standard development effort.

Practitioners on the committees include law enforcement, corrections, and public safety officers who have relevant experience and who represent stakeholder organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Tactical Officers Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Sheriffs' Association, and the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board.

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 the equipment should be able to do. Second, it helps ensure that what comes out of the process is a community consensus with respect to the requirements.

Duration. Special Technical Committees are established on an ad hoc basis for approximately 14 to 24 months as needed to draft the standard. 

When the Special Technical Committee have finished work, NIJ validates the test method included in the standard to demonstrate that there is at least one piece of equipment that can meet the standard. If revisions to the test method are needed, NIJ will send the standard back to the Special Technical Committee for additional work.

Composition of Standard Package

The Special Technical Committee develops three interrelated documents that together form the complete standard package:

  1. Standard. The purpose of an NIJ standard is to enhance the safety of officers. The standard defines the minimum design and performance requirements that equipment must meet and the test methods to be used to assess performance. This document is used by both manufacturers and testing laboratories. Manufacturers are motivated to design products to meet NIJ standards because grant funds to buy equipment usually are granted with the stipulation that products meet standards.
  2. Conformity assessment requirements. Another step is to define requirements to ensure that equipment is tested and meets the standard. This is accomplished through the conformity assessment requirements document. This document is written for certification bodies, testing laboratories, and inspection bodies.
  3. Selection and application guide. The third leg of the Special Technical Committee process is providing information to law enforcement, corrections, and public safety agency decision-makers, procurement officials, and end users. The selection and application guide describes the standard and conformity assessment requirements in nontechnical terms and provides guidance on procurement, selection, use, maintenance, care, and disposal of equipment. The topics covered in this document are identified by the practitioners on the committee and directly relate to the activities performed and encountered by law enforcement and corrections officers.

Listening to Stakeholders and Dissemination Process

During the development of a standard, NIJ conducts workshops with relevant vendors and manufacturers to give insight into each standard's evolving design and performance requirements. These workshops also inform the Special Technical Committee regarding to the vendors' views of those requirements.

Prior to publication, the draft standard is provided for public comment.

Revising Existing Standards

Standards should be updated at least every five years but may be updated sooner if circumstances dictate. Updating standards at least every five years is not always possible. Of the 50 NIJ performance standards published over the past 30 years, more than half are inactive. Of the 16 active standards, one is nearly 30 years old and another 10 are more than a decade old.

Depending on their complexity, standards may be revised, through either a full Special Technical Committee process or through a "mini" Special Technical Committee process, which takes only 6-12 months.

Date Published: December 10, 2009