Be safe – armor up!

The lead news article today on PoliceOne – Officers at risk by resisting armor – states that as many as half of this country’s police officers choose to not wear protective armor “all or part of the time.”  In an article posted to PoliceOne just last week – FBI releases 2007 statistics on officer deaths, assaults – we reported that 57 officers were murdered in 2007, and in today's article from the USA Today it was starkly pointed out that among those police officers murdered, more than one-third were not wearing body armor.

Meanwhile, statistics from IACP included in yet another article posted today to PoliceOne show that more than 3,000 officers have been “saved from fatal or potentially disabling injuries by body armor” since 1987.

Find a reason, find a way
The above numbers don’t make any sense when you put them together. Or at the very least, these numbers cause a person to stop and wonder, “If wearing armor is saving thousands of officers, and not wearing armor is leading to the tragic loss of even a single officer, then why are officers not wearing armor?”

Money and comfort are the two most frequent responses given in response to that question. On the question of money, most agencies are able to leverage grants available from some states and sometimes the federal government as well.  There are some outstanding resources on PoliceGrantsHelp for tips on how to write grant proposals, such as Michael Paddock’s 15 FAQs for Law Enforcement and the Police Grants Research page.    

There are also some other options that may not immediately spring to mind. PoliceOne columnist and Street Survival Seminar instructor Jim Glennon says, “Many agencies develop relationships with local businesses, chambers of commerce, etcetera, and they keep a fund going through the relationships with them. You can also have fund raisers. There are ways to do this, it just requires some effort and creativity.”

On the issue of comfort, PoliceOne columnist and Street Survival Seminar instructor Dave Smith says “The problem with body armor is the tendency of the government to over-engineer it until it is neither comfortable nor affordable. All engineering of protective devices is a balance of the effective, efficient, and, frankly, emotional component of an item. Airbags failed when people actually sat in vehicles the way they wanted to not the way the engineers wanted them to. Look at the headsets worn by coaches in the NFL – Motorola had to design something these men would wear. Not only did they want sturdy communication headsets they wanted something that emotionally looked strong. Body armor has always been a tough sell to some who emotionally want to pretend they will never need it or feel they are appearing weak because they wear it. We need to consider wearing armor as a basic component of being a warrior. This is what we emphasize at the seminar: We wear our armor and pick up our shields.”

Betsy Brantner Smith, also a PoliceOne columnist and Street Survival Seminar instructor, says: “What continues to surprise me as I teach women’s classes around the country is the number of women officers who don't wear body armor because they can't find a vest that''s comfortable. It’s primarily a matter of education and information; women and their agencies need to know that there are products and technology out there that make modern body armor for women that fits well, provides excellent coverage, and is comfortable enough to wear all day, every day.”

Glennon adds that outside of making it a policy and ordering them to do so, agencies can use in-service training to encourage the use of armor. “In addition to sending their people the Street Survival Seminar, they can show the videos that are available and have supervisors read odmp.org stories on a regular basis. I have asked younger officers at the beginning of Seminars, ‘How many officers were killed or died in the line of duty last year?’ and their answers are usually very low, with the lowest being a young female who guessed ‘five or six’.”

If only that were so, this would indeed be a much better world.

At times though, you need look no further than the news on PoliceOne in order to find a reason to don your armor. The item posted today entitled Suspect: ''I would have kept shooting police'' pointed out the fact that NYPD officers Jason Maass and Shane Farina were wounded but survived an ugly encounter in a subway station in Queens, N.Y. “Farina, who was shot near his sternum and suffered a fractured rib, remained in critical condition but was stable. Maass, who was shot in the lower back, was released early Wednesday from a hospital. Both officers were wearing bulletproof vests,” the article said.

In response to this article, Deputy Chris Morgan of the Fort Worth Marshals Office made the outstanding comment (we encourage Member comments), “Yet another reason for us to wear our vests!”

Officer Michael Monnat of the Arcola (Texas) Police Department commented: “I never work a day without my armor, and I work in the Houston area so I can definitely complain about the heat.”

The above picture shows the FHN Five-Seven confiscated recently in Ohio along with the rounds that were loaded into it. As you can see, they appear to be small rifle rounds.

Forward-looking technology
PoliceOne today received an important piece of information from the N.Y.P.D. Intelligence Division (by way of the Westchester Crime Analysis Union Information Bulletin dated October 21, 2008) about a new pistol that can apparently defeat body armor. The pistol is the FHN Five-Seven, which the mainstream media has nicknamed the “cop killer.” One of these evil things was confiscated during a traffic stop in Ohio not too long ago, and, according to the report PoliceOne received, was test fired with the result being that the rounds penetrated both the front and back of a piece of body armor.

These pistols, as well as an array of long guns that can easily defeat current body armor, are among the reasons that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) announced a new performance standard for body armor during the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) annual conference in Arlington, Virginia in July.  As was pointed out in a July 30, 2008 article by PoliceOne staff writer Hannah Simon – New body armor standards highlight importance of 'wearing your shield' – the NIJ is encouraging all officers to continue to wear their body armor even if their current vests don’t meet the new standards.

Matt Davis, President and CEO of Armor Express said in that article: “Just because they’ve come out with a new standard doesn’t invalidate the current standard. The reason they came out with an updated standard is to ensure that the law enforcement community is adequately protected from the threats they face. As the threats constantly change, so does the need to have newer standards for body armor,” Davis concluded.

The new body armor standard brings to light a heightened awareness that there are good body armor products available and that officers need to be wearing them. The new standards may give officers a new level of comfort with their body armor and may give departments the impetus to provide body armor for their officers.

It has been said to us here at PoliceOne many times but it bears repeating to our Members: Anyone who has been saved by their body armor will almost certainly tell you that it’s the best investment they’ve ever made.

Be safe. Armor up.

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