Government data from the last 10 years reveals there have been nearly 60,000 assaults on our police officers, but armor vests have saved the lives of more than 3000 officers in the last 30 years. In New York City alone, almost 90 officers lives have been saved by body armor since 1978. Over 70% of police departments, as of 2013, were requiring their officers to wear AR500 body armor or other types of body armor plates and bulletproof vests for police officers at all times. Hopefully, that number will soon be 100% because body armor is extremely important to protecting the lives of our brave law enforcement officers.
For every officer in every situation, certain types of body armor will function better than others. In general, the more protection any type of body armor for police offers, the more it will interfere with an officer’s ability to move and do the job. These realities have to be balanced, as well as other considerations like making a choice between the AR500 body armor with its steel plates and tactical body armor made with ceramic plates or polyethylene.
The Pros and Cons of Ceramic
Ceramic body armor offers the best protection for the least weight. They weigh between six and half and eight pounds less per plate than other similarly-sized body armor plates, and they also provide the greatest protection against the higher caliber rounds.
They are ruinously expensive. Just one plate can run almost $500, putting this type of body armor out of the price range of most local police forces. In the second place, ceramic is relatively delicate. Tossing a plate on the ground or dropping it on its edge is a great way to shatter a very expensive investment.
Pros and Cons of Steel
The steel plates found in AR500 body armor or other similar types is by far the cheapest and most accessible option for the average law enforcement office. The “AR” in front of the different numbers when referring to steel body armor plates simply refers to the hardness of those plates. The most common in general use for local law enforcement is the AR500 body armor. Not only are steel plates inexpensive, but they are also very durable. You can hit them multiple times, even in the same place, and they won’t shatter. They are also very easy to conceal. A thin steel plate can stop a rifle round but can still be concealed so the bad guys can’t tell that you’re wearing it.
Unfortunately, steel plate body armor is vulnerable to weapons with high velocity, and spalling is a major concern. Spalling is simply the shrapnel generated by a hit, meaning that fragments of a round can go into the wearer’s chin, arms, or legs. However, modern AR 500 body armor and other types of steel armor are now equipped with a spall liner coating that is useful to prevent spalling for at least one round. Finally, steel is simply heavy. A steel plate can easily weigh as much as eight and a half pounds, and when you add trauma padding things get even heavier.
Pros and Cons of Poly Plates
Polyethylene body armor is made from a type of ballistic polymer or resin. These are very light and generally do not interfere with an officer’s ability to do the job in any way. They provide excellent protection against knife threats and small caliber weapons.
The biggest drawback of the poly plate body armor is that it is easily penetrated by anything other than the smallest rounds. In addition, this type of body armor is quite sensitive to temperature extremes, meaning that too much heat can warp it while too much cold can make it brittle and easier to shatter.
In the end, choosing body armor is a personal decision for every law enforcement officer and for every law enforcement office. The dangers of the job have to be balanced with the need to move quickly, and officers in different situations will require different types of body armor. In the end, each office has to make the decision that’s right for their men and women.