The simple truth is that wearing body armor saves lives. Since it was started in 1987 the IACP/Dupont™ Kevlar® Survivors’ Club® has recorded over 3,100 officers who have been saved by wearing body armor.
Modern body armor was popularized, if not invented, by Richard Davis who started the Second Chance Body Armor Company in the 1970s. Second Chance is now a part of the Safariland
group of companies. Second Chance made external ballistic carriers incorporated in windbreaker type jackets primarily for plainclothes officers and raid type carriers for tactical team members. However, the company’s mainstay was concealable body armor worn under the uniform shirt.
Davis even suggested that agencies refrain from talking about concealable vests since this might encourage suspects to shoot for an officer’s unprotected head. The jig is up, however, with TV shows – reality and otherwise – as well as movies clearly showing officers wearing concealable as well as external (visible) armor.
The uniformed officer wearing concealable armor has had to deal with all the comfort issues associated with wearing a concealable vest. Heat related issues are the number one problem. Armor manufacturers have attempted to address these issues by incorporating new fiber technologies into the carriers that contain the ballistic panels. This, coupled with the widespread use of sports type undershirts that wick perspiration and allow cooling of the skin, have certainly improved comfort.
Regardless of new technologies, it is still not a pleasant experience to search a non-air conditioned dope house in the heat of the day in uniform while wearing a concealable vest. These types of activities lead to officers going out into their air-conditioned patrol vehicles, zipping down the front of their uniform shirts, and lifting their vests off their soaked T-shirts to allow some air flow and comfort. Enter: the External Carrier
Tactical operators have long had the ability to unzip the front of their raid vests or based on design, undo the side Velcro® and lift the vest off to allow cooling post-raid or other tactical operation. So too, they could easily remove the armor while in the station or other safe environment. Not the uniform guys. In order the remove their armor they would have to take off their shirts and gun belts, which would then require time to put back on. This laborious process is not required with newer external vest carriers.
Newer designs have come out over the last few years designed for uniformed officers to carry their ballistic vests on the outside of their uniform shirt. Uniformed day shift patrolmen have summed up the positive experience of wearing an external armor carrier on the streets for one year with comments like, “So much more comfortable that there is no comparison. The external vest allows me to ‘burp it’ (unhook the Velcro® attachments) and air it out. There is about one-third less perspiration on the T-shirt at the end of a shift.” The other advantages are the ability to remove the external carrier while in the station completing paperwork.
Dan Wheeler, a product representative for PACA and Point Blank
, stated the call for these external carriers has risen to the point where they comprise about 30 percent of all vest carrier sales. Wheeler reported that agencies in his area such as Chicago Police, Ft. Wayne, Ind. Police, Indianapolis Police, and Dayton, Ohio Police have authorized external carriers. Doug Vance of Vance’s Police Supply in Columbus, Ohio stated his sales of external carriers are now between 10 to 20 percent of all vests ordered. Agencies such as the Dayton Police Department issue both concealable and external carriers to their officers. The Uniformed Shirt Style Carrier
Neither style of external carrier requires new ballistic panels. The panels already measured for your torso simply fit into the external carrier. The first style of external armor carrier is the design that looks like a police uniform shirt. These carriers as typified by the Tailored Armor Carrier (TAC) by Point Blank, the yet-to-be-released Armorskin™ by Blauer
’s V1 External Vest Carrier, the ABA (American Body Armor) Uniform Carrier; GH Armor Systems’
Uniform Shirt Carrier.
Coming this fall is a collaboration between 5.11
and Safariland with the 5.11 PDU (Patrol Duty Uniform) External Vest Carrier, and many smaller aftermarket carrier manufacturers. Most are made from a heavier weight fabric than a standard uniform shirt – which helps support the ballistic panels – but offer a pretty good color match to the standard shirt colors. Some manufacturers offer less color options than others.
These carriers are based on traditional five-crease military style shirts, which have buttons and standard shirt scalloped flap pockets as well as epaulets. They are designed to look like the front and back torso sections of a standard uniform shirt. Attachment is via hook-pile on straps at the sides of the carrier. Some incorporate elastic for an adjustable fit; some not. In some designs, Point Blank and ABA for example, there are a couple of small pockets on the front in the abdomen area under the standard pockets as well.
Problems with these vests are the carrier is made to fit your vest panels, not you. Brian Limbert from D&G Uniforms in Ohio stated he and his staff are trained to measure and fit an officer with armor that ensures maximum coverage and comfort. A standard complaint of the shirt style carriers is that on most, there is no adjustment at the shoulders, which frequently brings the top edge of the vest panel up too high. The result is when an officer sits, the vest pokes him in the throat while at the same time leaving an exposed gap above the duty belt. The Tactical Style Carrier
These types of carriers have been in existence for some time. They offer an armor option for plainclothes officers to quickly don their vests while performing search warrants or responding to crimes in progress. They are now filtering into uniformed patrol and for good reason. Frequently these vests are made of 500 weight Cordura® nylon or similar, and they feature large sections of hook-pile material and come complete with I.D. banners such as POLICE and SHERIFF as well as attachable pockets for radios, pistol magazines and other gear. Similar to the uniform shirt style carrier, these external ballistic panel carriers affix at the sides of the officer via elastic straps.
Most traditional manufacturers offer some type of external carrier in this category. Examples include the Point Blank R20-D Crossover Carrier; ABA’s Xtreme® Series, which is available in either concealable or tactical carrier; Armor Express
O.C.S. – Overt Carrier System; GH Armor Systems Tactical Outer Carrier, among others. Most of these types of carriers offer adjustable shoulder straps to avoid the throat and abdomen gap issues that can occur with uniform shirt style carriers.
These external raid type vests by many manufacturers have begun incorporating MOLLE webbing in the front, rear or both for attachment of a large variety of officer equipment. This has become very popular with officers. For many small stature and female officers, space on the duty belt is at a premium. The external vest with readymade pockets or with MOLLE webbing allows officers to shift equipment such as TASERs, radios, pistol magazines, etc., to the vest. This allows officers to carry these important pieces of gear but takes the weight off their duty belts.
Officer back pain and health issues surrounding their backs and conditions such as hip or sciatic pain based on the weight of the duty belt and equipment are well known. Many officers have suffered back injuries from on-the-job motor vehicle accidents or slips and falls. These external vest carriers increase officer comfort by helping to shift burdensome weight from the belt to the carrier. Officers love them for this reason. One officer who had several back surgeries and had the opportunity to wear this vest, commented he definitely appreciated the increased comfort during his workday and afterward.
Many agencies frown on these types of carriers as being too “militaristic” or similar statements. This flies in the face of the obvious advantages of moving equipment from your belt to a carrier, which can be ordered with badge and nameplate tabs, POLICE banners and the like. It only makes sense to increase officer comfort by shifting some of these duty belt items to the external vest carrier if possible. New Developments
Many armor manufacturers have taken officer suggestions into account and are going back to their R&D departments and incorporating many of these ideas. Shoulder adjustment is mandatory and is being addressed by most.
Could a hybrid vest, which incorporates the best of both types of vest carriers be developed? This vest would satisfy the advocates of the uniform shirt look with sections of MOLLE across the front abdomen section to allow several items to be shifted to the vest carrier. Because most of these vest carriers use lighter weight fabric, it would necessitate a heavier weight material on the outer shell but this would still not ruin the uniform shirt look asked for.
With more and more officers and agencies asking for vest carriers, manufacturers have been devoting more time and thought to advancement in this area. External ballistic vest panel carriers are making headway with uniform patrol and for sound reasoning – they increase comfort and decrease fatigue and in the case of some designs, offer the patrol officer a relief from the burdensome weight of the duty equipment they must carry.
Agencies and officers should consult their body armor manufacturer to see if they place the ballistic panels in another company’s carrier, does it violate the warranty. Manufacturers have expressed concern that doing so potentially affects the way the vest covers the officer’s body, possibly exposing gaps. Body armor saves lives and external carriers increase the comfort of wearing it on duty. That’s a double win for law enforcement. Kevin R. Davis is a full-time officer with 29 years of experience. Assigned to the Training Bureau, he specializes in firearms and tactics instruction. Kevin is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency’s SWAT team. Visit his website at www.advancedtacticalconcepts.com. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(SIDEBAR)Blauer Streetshirt™ and 5.11 Patrol Duty Uniform, PDU Rapid Shirt
Coming this year from Blauer and 5.11 are shirts designed to be worn under external vest carriers. Both of these designs are scheduled to be release later this year and should increase officer comfort even more.
According to Blauer, their Streetshirt is manufactured of “breathable, moisture-wicking mesh fabric which creates the ultimate performance uniform shirt that is both professional and comfortable.” Designed specifically to be worn under the Armorskin external uniform vest carrier, the shirt looks like a normal police duty shirt in the area not covered by the vest but better dissipates heat and increases comfort for the officer under the vest area.
The PDU Rapid Shirt 5.11 is teaming up with Second Chance to release features a knit bottom with offers advanced fabric properties in the area not covered by the external vest (PDU External Vest Carrier). According to 5.11 Tactical, the shirt “with it duty appearance from outside the external carrier to its moisture wicking and anti-microbial features underneath the carrier, the 5.11 PDU Rapid Shirt will keep you cool, dry and comfortable.”