This article was written by a contributing author and is not meant to be taken as legal advice or otherwise. Kindly contact us if you have any suggestions to improve this article here.
Law enforcement officers have several tools that they can count on to save their lives. One of the most important is their bulletproof vests. There are many types of body armor that can be used while on the job. Companies that manufacture tactical gear are also making body armor for citizens as well. While the vests and other types of body armor are effective, the vests made for law enforcement officers are made to a much higher standard and can withstand much more force, depending on the materials that are used in their construction.
The Need for Bulletproof Vests and Body Armor
Police officers are put in harm’s way every time they put on their badge. While they have many tools at their disposal to protect them physically, none can take the place of their bulletproof vest. Bulletproof vests are not fool-proof. They leave areas of the body open to injury, but are effective at preventing direct hits to the vital organs that could otherwise be life threatening. Law enforcement agencies will also place bullet proof vests on their K9 officers as well. A K9 is just as much an officer as its human handlers and work just as hard to protect the community.
Many people have the misconception that bulletproof vests only stop bullets. Depending on the type of material, these vests may also be able to stop knives or other sharp objects from penetrating the material and injuring the officer. Kevlar is one of the most common materials used to stop bullets, while ceramic and steel plating are also effective at stopping sharp objects like knives and pieces of glass. Advancements in technology continues to produce new materials that are more effective and lighter weight than other materials used in the past.
There are many different sizes of bullets. These distinct calibres are capable of causing a wide range of damage. The bullet’s calibre will determine its ballistic performance and how it acts when it is fired. A bullet resistant vest has one primary job and that is to stop the most powerful bullets from penetrating the material and harming the person. Tactical vests may use multiple materials to protect the core areas of the body. Ballistic body armor and stab proof vests are designed to meet specific standards so they will provide adequate protection. Each type of material serves a purpose and is designed to offer a specific level of protection.
Bulletproof vests are made from many different materials. The most well known is Kevlar fabric. Kevlar was invented by Stephanie Kwolec, a DuPont chemist, in 1965. Other materials include:
- Dyneema- Polyethylene fiber materials are 15x stronger than steel and 40%stronger than Kevlar/aramid type fibers.
- UHMWPE – Incredibly strong and lightweight, resistant to both ballistic projectiles and sharp-edged objects
- Aramid and Kevlar Aramid Fibers – Strong and flexible fibers, continues to remain stable as it ages
- Twaron – A flexible solution to produce a liner that improves resistance
- Ceramic – Nothing like the ceramics used in crafts; stronger, more durable
- Steel – Steel core plates have been used for many years to deflect bullets and sharp objects (originally used in World War I)
While some of the materials can be quite heavy, others are incredibly lightweight, especially in comparison to their ballistic performance. Bulletproof vests are capable of stopping bullets of several different calibers as well as preventing penetration by knives and other sharp objects.
Who Needs Body Armor
Body armor is a true lifesaver. Since it was used in World War I and World War II, law enforcement agencies began using bulletproof vests and other types of body armor several decades ago. With more and more incidents involving police officers being shot and killed, it became apparent that they needed to be protected using whatever means were available. While steel plates were the first to be used. Other materials began to follow rather quickly. By the mid 1960s, Kevlar had been invented and was being considered for use by both soldiers and law enforcement officers.
Many civilians are choosing to purchase soft body armor to provide at least a modest amount of protection. Civilians who live in high-crime areas, carry large sums of money or valuables, or are just concerned for their own safety while hunting, may choose to purchase soft body armor that provides a modest amount of protection against stabbings with sharp knives or penetration by different calibres of bullets.
How Do Bulletproof Vests Work?
Depending on what type of ballistic proof material is used, a vest will stop or catch a bullet. As the bullet makes contact with the material it changes shape, being forced into a mushroom shape or broken and flattened. As the bullet impacts the vest, the force of its motion will be dispersed over a wider area of the vest and the ballistic material. By absorbing the energy of the bullet and causing it to become deformed, the vest can slow it down enough that it will not be able to penetrate through the vest or the ballistic fibers.
In order for a bulletproof vest to be effective, it must be the proper size and cover all of the vital organs. The vest must fit securely and shift while you have it in place. When it comes to your job or how you plan on using the vest, determining the purpose will help you choose the right type of ballistic material. This will affect the weight of a vest. For example, a vest with steel plates will be more effective but will also weigh considerably more than a vest made with aramid fiber.
Ceramic vs Steel vs Kevlar
Although there are many types of body armor and ballistic resistant materials, ceramic, steel, and kevlar are the most well-known. Steel and ceramic are the oldest forms of modern body armor dating back to as early as World War 1. Kevlar dates back to 1965, around the time of the Vietnam War.
- Ceramic is a hard armor that is lightweight. It can stop rifle bullets but has a limit of three to five hits. Ceramic requires extra care and may shatter or crack if dropped.
- Steel is cheap and long lasting. The problem is that steel as heavy as it is effective. It can trap heat, making it extremely uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- Kevlar is lightweight and extremely effective at absorbing impact and deflecting bullets away from the body.
In many situations, the type of work you do will determine what type of bullet proof vest you wear. Law enforcement, military and security personnel sometimes have a choice when it comes to choosing their own form of protection. It’s important to do your research before you make your final decision.
Are There Different Types of Vests
There are two types of vest; hard armor and soft armor. Hard armor vests and body armor have ceramic and steel plates throughout and may actually have kevlar or other ballistic materials to back up and support the ceramic or steel plates. Soft body armor is made using only the softer fibers like kevlar and aramid materials.
Different Rating Levels
In order to understand the effectiveness of bullet proof vests, you should understand the ratings and what they mean.
- Level IIA – stops 9mm and .40 Smith and Wesson (short barrel handgun discharge) not effective against rifle fire
- Level II – stops 9mm and .357 Magnum (short barrel handgun discharge) not effective against rifle fire
- Level IIIA – stops .357 SIG and .44 Magnum (long barrel handgun discharge) not effective against rifle fire
- Level III – stops 7.62mm NATO FMJ lead core (rifle ammo)
- Level IV – exceptional protection, will stop .30 steel core ammunition designed to pierce body armor
- Special threat – This rating indicates that the construction of the vest will determine what types of materials are used, particularly with 5.56mm or .223 types of ammunition
It’s a good idea to have several options at your disposal when it comes to bullet resistant vests. Knowing these ratings could save your life.
Civilian vs Police Issue
Many companies have started offering bulletproof vests to civilians. They can be ordered online and are the same quality and effectiveness as military and police issue. In order to purchase a bulletproof vest, they buyer must not have a felony conviction. Connecticut and a few other states are putting restrictions on who can purchase various types of body armor. Once you determine what type of body armor you need, it’s important to know if your state has restrictions in place.