Ensuring a proper fit for your body armor

By Doug Wyllie

Late last week, I received an inquiry from a member of Corrections1 — the brother/sister site to PoliceOne serving COs across North America — with a question about body armor.

In sum, the inquiry was as follows:

“Do you recommend that female correctional officers share the stab resistant vest or be issued one per correctional officer. At [REDACTED] the female staff all have individual vest but other sites the employer wants them to share the vest but numerous complaints have come forward from the female correctional officers that the vest does not fit properly.”

As most Corrections1 Members already know, I am a huge proponent of wearing body armor, not only on duty, but in training — you’ve got to train like you’re going to fight! — without exception and without excuses.

I’m of the opinion that officer should have their own, properly-fitted, body armor. That said, I readily admit that as a generalist, my “expertise” on the subject is nothing compared to my friends in the industry who are specialists on body armor.

So, when I got the above inquiry I saw it as a perfect reason for me to reach out to my buddy Georg Olsen at U.S. Armor. The company is an industry leader in custom-fit body armor, and Georg is one of my go-to guys on questions like this.

Olsen first pointed out that while our reader didn’t specifically say if his inquiry was concerning covert concealable armor or overt tactical armor, the below principles apply to both. That said, this stuff is even more critical when the armor is concealable and worn under the uniform shirt.

Further, these same principles apply to ballistic armor as well as correctional armor designed to defend against edged weapons.

There are many reasons why each officer should have their own, dedicated armor...

1.) Fit
Virtually all armor, correctional or ballistic, needs to be custom-fitted to the individual who will be wearing it — and I mean true custom-fitting; not somebody looking at you and just pulling a standard-sized item off of the shelf. This is even more critical for females, for obvious reasons. If it wasn’t made to fit you, it won’t be comfortable, so it will add to your fatigue factor and also make you not want to wear it in situations where you really should wear it.

2.) Hygiene
Body armor is like underwear, worn very close to your body. I’ll bet no one wants to use shared, community underwear! Not only is there the bodily fluid smell and the biohazard exposure when sharing armor, if the armor is shared, then no individual is responsible for washing the carriers as often as they should be, right?

3.) Agency Exposure
If the agency becomes aware of reasons #1 and #2, then their legal department will clearly see the liability they are exposing themselves to on multiple fronts when they require employees to SHARE what is clearly intended to be individually measured, constructed, and issued safety equipment. And since it is safety equipment, I would think that there would be a “consistency of protection” issue if there were different practices at different institutions.

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