4 questions to ask when buying body armor

Officers who don't wear body armor regularly are three to four times more likely to suffer a fatal injury from a torso shot than officers who routinely wear body armor; here's what you need to consider when making a purchase

Correctional officers must protect themselves from assaults with knife blades and spikes constructed by inmates.

Although there is no such thing as a “bullet-proof” or “stab-proof” vest, ballistic-resistant body armor can protect against a substantial number of handgun and rifle ammunition in addition to bladed weapons.

Studies conducted by the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Hygiene found officers who don’t wear body armor regularly are three to four times more likely to suffer a fatal injury from a torso shot than officers who routinely wear body armor.

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

But how do you pick the right one?

Here are 4 features to look for when buying your next ballistic resident body armor.

Is it made of the right materials?
Ballistic vests are made to catch the bullet then absorb and disburse the impact energy that is transmitted to the vest from the bullet.

The bullet deforms and “mushrooms,” then disburses energy into the vest fibers. This energy is absorbed by each successive layer of material in the vest until the bullet is stopped.

Over the years, Kevlar fiber materials have been reworked and now are able to protect from both blade and spike threats in addition to ballistic protection. This technology has been achieved by laminating and melding together several ultra-thin layers of fibers.

Does it meet the National Institute of Justice rating?
Body armor is rated according to the amount of blunt force impact they are capable of stopping.

These ratings range from level II A to level IV according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ has a rating system for both ballistic resistant and stab resistant body armor.

The vests are not only tested and rated for stopping penetration but also for blunt trauma protection related to the blow suffered by the body from impact on the vest.

Consulting the NIJ standards of body armor protection ratings, assessing the level of protection you are required to wear by your agency and thorough knowledge of the street-level ballistic threats in your demographic area will help determine the necessary level of your body armor purchase.

Is it the right fit?
Ballistic vests are made to protect the torso. They are intended to fully protect the wearers’ vital organs from attack and damage.

Modern forms of soft ballistic armor are extremely lightweight with flexible panels. While the wearer is aware they have a vest on, they are not overly restricted from bending or sitting.

Soft armor is made from woven fibers, such as Kevlar or Twaron. When a handgun bullet strikes the body armor, it is caught in the web of these strong fibers.

Contrary to belief, a vest is not worn to protect both the entire upper and lower torso. The armor covers only as low as the naval specifically by design.

Although being stabbed or shot in the lower abdomen wouldn’t be comfortable, it most likely would not be life-threatening and your upper torso and vital organs would be protected.

How do I take care of it?
Although newer technology continues to develop more sophisticated lightweight vest fibers, the newer fibers are substantially more vulnerable to environmental degradation.

Over time, body armor fibers break down from environmental factors, along with general wear and tear. Factors which take a toll and deteriorate body armor include dry cleaning solvents, detergents, bleach and soaps.

Part of taking care of body armor is getting the proper warranty as well. Verify your armor unit or ballistic product has a declared ballistic warranty period.

Each unit will have a stated warranty period that is based upon the actual manufacture date.

Although your agency may provide funding toward your new body armor, be willing to supplement in order to buy the best protection you can find that is suited to your safety needs even if it requires you to spend a little more. There is no price tag on your safety. 

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