Bulletproof vests are a vital piece of equipment for police officers, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of body armor to uncover the truth behind its effectiveness. We explore the science of bullet-resistant materials, debunk the myth of absolute protection, and reveal why it’s crucial to wear your vest at all times. From understanding how different calibers can penetrate armor to learning proper care and maintenance, this comprehensive guide aims to empower officers with the knowledge they need to stay safe in the line of duty.
Why Are Bulletproof Vests Actually Not Bulletproof?
The term “bulletproof vests” is actually a misnomer. The vests are bullet resistant, not bulletproof. The reality is that bullet resistant vests don’t protect the wearer from every threat. Nothing is bulletproof, not even a manhole cover. In an extremely minute percentage of cases, a bullet can get through a vest that’s been rated to stop them. The bullet could have a serrated edge or something similar to it. Bulletproof vests do not make the wearer become Superman.
Body armor is meant to absorb impact of the projectile. Depending on the vest’s rating it may have stronger absorption than other vests. This does not make it bulletproof. Most manufacturers avoid the term when naming vests, even when the vest is up to the highest standard.
How Does Bulletproof Fabric Stop Bullets?
Body armor is comprised of very strong non-woven and/or woven ballistic fibers. The ballistic material will stop a bullet similar to how a net will stop a tennis ball or volleyball. It causes the bullet to turn, slow it down and send its energy through the whole panel. The bullet mushrooms, which helps in the process. Keep in mind that the slower the bullet is, the better off the wearer is going to be. Bullets that have a hard tip or fired at a high velocity will get through the fibers and right through the bullet proof vest.
Can Bulletproof Vests Stop Rounds From Shotguns?
The shells of a shotgun are very dangerous to bulletproof vests wearers because ballistic vests are not rated for these kinds of rounds. The reason? Shotgun shells and rifle slugs do not have a consistent velocity. We can state however that a NIJ level IIIA bulletproof vest can stop certain shotgun loads. The movie below shows a 12 GA 1.25oz Slug that was successfully stopped by the ballistic panel.
What Is A Bulletproof Vests’ Lifespan?
The majority of the certified body armor by the National Institute of Justice has a five-year service rating. When a vest is worn each day, it loses the protective capability quicker than one that sits on a shelf. It doesn’t matter how short or long the body armor is worn, the vest should be carefully looked over for any signs of damage – creases, tears, smells and burns. If properly taken care of, the vest should last five years. Be sure to follow the care instructions. Read more about the lifespan of a bullet proof vest here.
Should You Send In Your Body Armor Warranty Card?
Make sure that your team fills out the warranty card to register the vest. If they don’t, be sure that you do. The reason for sending in your warranty card is that during a recall, many companies will have a difficult time getting in touch with their customers because they failed to send the warranty cards back.
How Many Body Armor Carriers Should You Have?
It’s important to have a minimum of two carriers – one to wash, another to wear. Keep it clean and dry to ensure the ballistic panels will lasts for the entire five to ten years.
Can You Use A Sponge To Clean Your Ballistic Panels?
When you need to clean the vest’s ballistic panels, use a damp sponge and a mild soap. If you want, you can also use Febreeze on them. Never, toss them into the washer and/or dryer. Never iron them either, as irons will cause the fiber to burn or melt.
Put Your Bulletproof Vests Up In A Closet
Don’t forget that ballistic panels comprise of several layers of bullet resistant fibers. If they become bent or are out of shape, you cannot straighten them out or iron them out. So, if you lay your sweat vest on the floor in a crumpled mess, it’ll dry like that.
Can You Get Your Bullet Proof Vest Wet?
The worst idea you can do is go swimming with your body armor on. The reason is that some bulletproof vests lose their ballistic performance because the water acts as a lubricant. When this happens, it makes it susceptible to bullet penetration. Keep in mind though… there are some manufacturers that have treated their vests with water resistant materials, which then allows them to be used in water. But in general, you should avoid getting your vest wet.
View Your Vest As Clothing
The majority of vest American law enforcement wear are similar to clothing in how they’re made. They have tack stitches, quilt stitches and various other techniques. Veteran garment workers will inspect the bulletproof vest just like the underwear you’re wearing today. They’re looking for any kind of sewing defect that will cause the vest to become inefficient and ineffective.
After Being Shot In The Armor, You Can Still Fight
There have been a significant number of cases where officers have been shot wearing their body armor. The majority of them equate the feeling of being hit with a bullet with the feeling of being hit with a hammer. The result of being struck by a bullet wearing the body armor is a nasty-looking bruise, which is caused by the backface deformation.
To date, no one has died because of this and it’s not likely that the wearer will be incapacitated by it. Many law enforcement officers who have been shot in the armor have responded back, in the attempt to neutralize the threat. And, this is even before the use of the latest vest materials, which have been designed to reduce the effects of a blunt impact.
How Can You Keep Ballistic Panel Sag From Happening?
When the ballistic panels sag, the bulletproof vest isn’t very comfortable to wear. Worst of all, it doesn’t provide the protection the wearer wants or needs. The way to deal with the issue is to rotate your carriers. The majority of bulletproof vests are sold with a couple of carriers, although it’s best to have three you should have at least two. When the carriers are rotated, it keeps the Velcro straps from wearing out and stop the wear of the fabric.
Stay Fit or Attain A New Body Armor
It’s important that body armor wearers don’t gain more than 10 percent body weight. If a person gains more than five to 10 percent of their body weight – after being fitted for a vest – they need a new one. If a person loses weight, they also may require being fitted for a new vest.
The Carrier Doesn’t Offer Any Kind Of Ballistic Protection
No law enforcement officer should wear their carrier as the only protection from bullets. After all, it doesn’t provide any ballistic protection; it’s just like wearing a t-shirt.
What Bullets Does A Level IIIA Vest Stop?
Bulletproof vests that have been tested according to NIJ Level IIIA stop most handgun rounds, up to .44 Magnum ammunition. However some fast traveling 5.7mm rounds can penetrate Level IIIA body armor.
What Bullets Does A Level III Plate Stop?
In comparison with Level IV plates Level III plates are usually much lighter in weight. However a Level III plate is not designed to stop armor piercing rounds such as 30-06 AP rounds. Level III plates are tested to halt six consecutive impacts from 7.62X51mm NATO (Full Metal Jacket) rounds, each traveling at an average velocity of 2,780 feet per second (847 m/s).
Do Bullet Proof Vests Have Plates?
Tactical bullet proof vests have two additional plates that give protection against rifle rounds. These plates generally measure 10″ x 12″ (25cm x 30cm) and are placed in front of the soft armor panels.
Bullet proof vests that give protection against handgun rounds generally consist of a set of two soft armor panels. A front and back panel that cover a large part of the chest including the sides.
Can Small Handgun Rounds Penetrate Body Armor?
Many gun enthusiasts disregard the deadly potential some kind of handgun calibers have. Any bullet, small or large, that travels at a very high speed can penetrate body armor. Huge handgun rounds such as .44 Magnum and .45 ACP travel at slower speeds, which allows the body armor to stop them. However, .357 SIG and 9mm rounds could travel at much higher velocities so the ballistic panel cannot stop them as easily. In the video below you can see that even some 5.7mm rounds can penetrate body armor.
Place The Ballistic Panels In The Right Way
Ballistic panels have been created to fit into the carrier in a certain way. If the wearer puts them in wrong, it can lead to tragic results. The panel’s strike face is created to slow and disperse the energy of the bullet. The backside of the panel is created to reduce the trauma. If the panel is flipped, there’s no promise of the vest stopping the bullet.
Bulletproof Vests Are Not Knife Resistant Vests
Bulletproof vest wearers need to understand that bulletproof vests are not knife resistant vests. Stab vests are made of another kind of fiber and weave than bulletproof vests. There are multi-threat vests on the market; but, these are generally heavier and costs more money.
Can Bulletproof Vests Keep The Wearer Safe Even In Vehicle Accidents
Each year, during the International Association of Chiefs of Police, DuPont has a ceremony for officers who have been saved by the Kevlar body armor. Numerous officers recognized during this ceremony were saved from the impact of their patrol car’s steering column after an accident, not just from bullets.
Bulletproof Vests Are Not Body Suits
Body armor isn’t a high-tech body/running suit. When a person is being fitted for their vest, they need to take and hold a deep breath. This is the gap wanted between the body and the armor panels. The gap will help in reducing trauma should a bullet be experienced. It also makes it easier for officers to run and fight. Simply put, the functions of the bulletproof vests do better when it moves. The straps need to be pulled on and tension felt. Many new officers try strapping on their vest like it’s a girdle or corset; but, doing this can make them feel like someone is sitting on their chest when they have to give chase on foot.
Duct Tape Should Never Be Used As Replacements For Vest Straps
Many officers will use duct tape to secure the vest to their body. But, this is not a good idea for a number of reasons. One reason is that duct tape will tape the vest down so it cannot move with the body correctly. And, this means a coverage problems can occur during a ballistic event. A second reason is that duct tape does not provide additional ballistic protection.
Get A New Vest After The Old One Has Been Pierced By A Bullet
It’s important to understand that once a law enforcement officer has been shot in the bulletproof vest, he/she needs to buy a new one. After all, the fibers have been ruined by the bullet and cannot be repaired.
Protection Must Be Found In Both The Front and Back
It does not matter what time of year it is, law enforcement officers must use both their front and back panels to protect themselves. Too often, many cops will use just their front panels during the summer. Thugs don’t care if it’s the summer or not; if they can get a clean shot at an officer, they’ll shoot at whatever they can… Including at an officer’s back.
Use The Trauma Pad On The Bulletproof Vest
Many cops like the back pocket in their carrier that holds the trauma pad. Too often, cops will place their backup gun holster or cell phone in it. Don’t do that! Use it for the trauma pad, as it has been designed for. If the wearer is shot in the vest, the trauma pads will reduce the bruising that occurs.
Use The Vest, Don’t Leave It In The Locker or Trunk
There have been many cases where law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty did not have their bulletproof vest on. Rather, they refused to wear it and left the vest in their locker or trunk. It’s vitally important that all law enforcement use their bulletproof vests at all times!
Women Officers Should Have Body Armor That Caters To Them
Women must have additional trauma security for their chest, and for that, their vests should have real bra style cups…similar to what’s on a one-piece swimming suit.
You Need to Check Your Vest for Wear & Tear
Most bulletproof vests issued to law enforcement in the U.S. come with a 5-year warranty, which is the NIJ standard. This is how long your body armor is expected to hold its rating. Your vests true rating and how much protection its actually providing is affected by how often it’s used. If you are wearing it every day on the job it is getting far more “wear and tear” than if you only use it occasionally, and this weakens it.
You should inspect your vest’s ballistic panels after you’ve owned it for several years. Look for any damage at all, like tears, creases, burns or even a suspicious smelling odor. Follow the instructions on how to care for your ballistic armor as well and it should last longer.
Bulletproof Vests Must Be Rigorously Tested
According to a tenacious rumor throughout the police community, bulletproof manufacturers reinforce spots the NIJ shoots at before certifying the vests. However, testing protocol doesn’t allow body armor manufacturers to do this.
They should stop rounds from your own firearm
In the dangerous, unpredictable environment you will be entering, there’s only one threat you can anticipate: Your own firearm.
A surprising number of law enforcement and security professionals are shot with their own weapons after their gun has been grabbed or accidentally discharged. There is always the chance of getting hit by a round fired by their own colleagues during a fire exchange. It is important to ensure that your body armour can defeat the rounds used by you and the other officers in your agency.
Kevlar® is not the only ballistic material
The first viable bullet resistant material was Kevlar® made by DuPont. For a long time, people even called bullet resistant vests, ‘Kevlar Vests’. While, today, Kevlar® is still a popular bullet resistant material, there are several other high performance ballistic materials on the market, and many body armour manufacturers even use ‘systems’ that incorporate more than one single material in the same vest.
Currently, the most popular ballistic materials for body armor are Kevlar®, Twaron®, Goldflex®, Spectra Shield® and Dyneema®. Some of these belong to the family of aramid fibres and some to the family of polyethylene fibre, each offering unique advantages.
The international standard for body armor
Many countries e.g. Germany and the UK have their own ‘body armor standard’ but the one that is more or less accepted around the world is the ‘NIJ Standard 0101.06’.
NIJ Standard 0101.06 establishes minimum performance requirements and test methods for the ballistic resistance of personal body armour intended to protect against gunfire. This is a technical document that specifies the minimum performance requirements that equipment must meet to satisfy the requirements of criminal justice agencies around the world.
The highest possible level of ballistic protection possible for soft body armour is Level IIIA. Higher levels of protection from rifle ammo is only possible with aid of additional ballistic plates.
How does it feel to get shot in a bulletproof vest?
Most officers shot in bulletproof vests will end up with a nasty-looking bruise caused by blunt force trauma. But it is unlikely that it will even incapacitate you. Many officers shot in their armour have been able to shoot back at their attacker, and in many cases they have been able to neutralise the threat.
Getting shot by a 9mm or .44Mag round fuels an extremely sharp, stingy and pointed pain, which will most likely wind you for a couple of seconds. Due to the kinetic energy and deformation of the ‘bullet’ within a fraction of a second, the heat will also potentially leave a small burn mark on your skin at the point of impact.
If you have suffered from such assault you must seek immediate medical help and get checked out in case of any internal bleeding suffered due to rupture of any organs.
Why do bulletproof vests only cover the chest?
The ballistic panels inside a bulletproof vest are designed to protect the vital organs. Extending the ballistic protection below the waist line would make it impossible to perform certain tasks such as driving a car.
As you see, there’s much you did not know about body armor and you can also see why it’s vitally important every law enforcement officer in the nation, and world, to use their bulletproof vests.
If you have any comments or a question please do not hesitate to leave a quick message in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Wear your bulletproof vest today, so you can go home tonight!