Everything You Need to Know About How Body Armor Works

Every year, according to data from the government, about 60,000 police officers are attacked on the job. The second leading cause of death among law enforcement officers is gunshot wounds, and in 2016 alone 62 officers were killed by firearms while in the line of duty. Thankfully, 71% of all law enforcement departments now require their officers to wear body armor at all times while on duty. This tactical gear really does save lives: in New York City alone nearly 90 officers’ lives have been saved by ballistic body armor since 1987. How does bulletproof body armor work?

Styles of Body Armor

Body armor comes in different styles. When officers are expecting a serious possibility of dangerous assault, they will wear hard body armor. This type of tactical gear, however, is often impractical for everyday wear. Enter the soft body armor, which works much like a net of a soccer goal. When a soccer ball hits the net, the lines of the net spread, pulling other lines and distributing the energy of the blow over a wide area. The same thing happens when a bullet strikes soft body armor.

Kevlar fiber is perhaps the most famous of flexible bulletproof materials, and it can absorb a tremendous amount of energy. Newer and stronger materials, such as Vectran and carbon nanotubes, are also now available. The weave of these materials is very tight, which helps to spread the force of the bullet over the entire vest. This protects the wearer not only from the bullet’s entry but also from blunt force trauma from the force of the bullet. This type of armor is categorized by type. The lowest classifications can only stop small caliber bullets. For heavier calibers, more protection is needed.

Body Armor Categories

The lightest armor is known as Category I. The other categories are II-A, II, III-A, III, and IV. Category IV offers the greatest protection but is also very heavy and bulky. It can, however, protect even against close range, powerful shotgun fire. The first four categories are all soft and fairly easy to conceal. Any type of ballistic body armor of Type III or above will use hard plates to increase protection, but also bulk and weight. Some ballistic body armor is even adaptable. The base layer is a lower level, but when more protection is needed special pockets allow for the insertion of metal plates.

Reasons For Choosing Styles

You might wonder why all officers don’t just use the highest level of protection at all times. There are several reasons to choose lower level armor, however. One of the main issues is weight and flexibility. Since officers need to be able to run and catch criminals, and they need to be able to move quickly and easily much of the time, heavy armor can make it impossible to do the job. Also, surprisingly, heavier armor seems to increase the chance that an officer will be wounded. What seems to be happening is that a criminal sees the great bulk of the heavy body armor and deliberately takes aim for places that aren’t covered: such as the head. Less bulky armor goes unnoticed, leading criminals to attempt easier body shots, which are then stopped by the armor.

Ballistic body armor is constantly being improved, and we are always developing new ways to keep our officers safer while still allowing them to do their job. Perhaps the future will see police duty gear that is light, flexible, and capable of protecting from even the largest caliber attacks.

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