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Vest Carriers: New Way to Go

Written by James McBride

Soft body armor has been around for four decades. Why isn’t it standard equipment for all American law enforcement officers? An estimated 70 percent of law enforcement agencies issue body armor to all personnel, but more than 40 percent of the officers don’t wear it. More than 45 percent of law enforcement agencies in the United States don’t mandate ballistic vest wear. So, what are the major concerns about wearing – or not wearing – body armor?

Effectiveness? There is no national mandatory reporting requirement for law enforcement injuries, so the answer to this critical question isn’t an easy one. In 1972, DuPont introduced law enforcement to lightweight Kevlar® for ballistic vests. Since that time a growing number of officers and deputies owe their lives to the effectiveness of soft body armor. Today, the IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors Club claim over 3,000 “saves” from disabling injuries and death. The Safariland Saves Club boasts 1785 “saves” from fatal wounds over the last several decades.

Justice Department research indicates the protection offered by body armor worn in external vest carriers is as effective as that offered by armor worn in concealed vests. We won’t have the whole story until the federal government mandates a reporting process for vest-related incidents.

The cost? The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 1998, typically covers one-half of the body armor cost. In 2010, the Justice Department distributed $37 million to partially reimburse the cost of nearly 200,000 sets of body armor for more than 4,000 local agencies across the country. Community organizations and private companies have helped to fund vests in some towns and in some cases even K-9 officers have acquired armor. Given these facts, the cost of these products shouldn’t be a major prohibitive factor for any local agency.

Comfort? The development of the external vest carrier has greatly enhanced the comfort and utility of body armor while affording immediate accessibility to all personnel. Carriers fitted with extra pockets and load carrying systems enable officers to “customize” vests and mount various types of gear on the carriers, enabling them to easily and conveniently carry more “tools” to each job. This means carriers can help to make officers more efficient.

Modern vest carriers are said to be more comfortable than concealed vests, especially if fitted by qualified vendors. External vest carriers add a degree of flexibility not enjoyed by concealed vest users. This can be especially important to heavier officers who too often may elect to choose comfort over safety. Vest carriers can be easily removed, as when officers walk into an office to file reports, yet can be quickly donned should the need arise for enhanced personal protection. Literally nothing has made body armor more accessible to American police officers in recent years than the redesigned vest carriers.

Armor and carrier makers have vastly improved both products in recent years. This is the result of their willingness to listen to the users – especially the survivors. They have used this input to make important changes. The uncomely baggy look associated with the first generation of vest carriers is gone. Some of the new products match uniform shirts so well you can’t tell whether the body armor is concealed or in a carrier. How can that be? Today, vest carriers are designed from scratch and not bought off a rack full of a-few-sizes-fit-all vests in the store.

Over the last decade, numerous people have worked together to “mate” body armor with vest carriers. They’ve developed new products offering better personal protection coupled with improved comfort, enhanced utility value, and reasonable cost. The growing number of new end-users is proof the external vest carriers have hit the target. Today, vest carriers are used in major agencies like Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Cleveland and New York. In this day and age, when it comes to body armor, no American cop should be unprotected on the job…and external vest carriers just make the “wear it?” decision easier.

Published in Law and Order, May 2012

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