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Body Armor Performance Standards and Compliance Testing

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NIJ has been setting voluntary body armor standards since 1972. The NIJ standard is the only nationally accepted standard for the body armor worn by law enforcement and corrections officers. NIJ also administers a program to test commercially available armor for compliance with the standards to determine whether the vests meet NIJ's minimum performance standards.

The NIJ ballistic resistance standard classifies body armor by levels of ballistic performance. For any performance level, NIJ's test protocol requires that the bullet does not perforate the vest and that the vest protects against blunt trauma.

Note that NIJ has never tested nor certified ballistic items, such as backpacks, blankets, or briefcases, other than body armor for law enforcement. See DOJ Statement on Claims of NIJ Certification of Ballistic Backpacks.

NIJ's stab resistance body armor standard specifies the minimum performance requirements for body armor to protect the torso against slashes and stabs from knives and spikes; it also describes the associated testing procedures. The standard includes three performance levels, which are based on the armor's ability to prevent a perforation deep enough to injure an officer's internal organs at different strike force speeds. The standard also includes two protection classes: one for high-quality, commercially produced knives and another for lower-quality knife blades and improvised spikes that are likely to be present in a corrections environment.

Compliance Testing

NIJ administers a program to test commercially available armor for compliance with the standards to determine whether the vests will perform as expected.

In addition to being tested for NIJ compliance, body armor models must meet workmanship and labeling requirements.

NIJ also has a follow-up inspection and testing requirement to ensure that the body armor worn by officers is safe and reliable. Each body armor manufacturer with a model that meets the standard is subject to six follow-up inspections and testing over a five-year period, consisting of:

  • Inspections of recently manufactured vests to determine whether they are constructed in the same way as the original samples.
  • Follow-up ballistic testing.

NIJ's Criminal Justice Testing & Evaluation Consortium manages the compliance testing program.

Manufacturers' Role in Compliance Testing

On this page find:

During compliance testing, manufacturers:

Testing at Approved Laboratories

NIJ requires that body armor models being tested for NIJ compliance must be tested at an approved laboratory. To be approved, a lab must:

  • Be accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology as meeting general international standards for laboratory technical competence and quality management, as well as meeting specific technical requirements to perform the body armor tests included in the NIJ standards. Learn more about the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program.
  • Be an independent, third-party laboratory and conduct all body armor compliance testing within the United States.
  • Demonstrate freedom from potential conflicts of interest and maintain independent decisional relationships from its clients, affiliates, contractors and other organizations.
Date Published: July 21, 2022