Blue Line


December 18, 2014  By Chris Taylor

Police officers put their safety on the line every day to ensure others are secure. Tragically, 105 officers were killed in 2013 in t997he US alone. While absolute safety can never be guaranteed in the line of duty, body armour can help save lives and reduce the severity of injury.

The wide variety of products on the market ensures officers can be protected in every situation they face – from stab vests for patrolling volatile neighborhoods to ballistic armours for armed encounters.

Let’s take a look at the various types available and the benefits they offer.

{Patrol protection: Knife and needle armours}


Sharp and blunt weapons can pose a threat on any call. Edged blade protection is designed to help prevent injury from sharp items, including knives or broken glass. Depending on the situation, a suspect may pull a knife with every intention of attacking, or even break a bottle as an improvised weapon.

Various edged blade vests are available to suit numerous threat levels: category level II or III. The latter applies to attacks performed with a higher number of joules, and so should be worn by officers entering potentially dangerous situations.

Officers may also face attacks involving sharp objects in the line of duty, typically known as spike threats. An attacker may use needles, ice picks, lengthy nails or other projected items to inflict damage if they feel under threat. As spiked weapons will penetrate most fabrics by passing through the minute spaces between threads, body armours specific to this threat are designed to stop the object completely before it can reach the flesh underneath. Kevlar is the most common material used, and has high success rates.

{Firearms protection: Ballistic armours}

Unfortunately, guns continue to be a threat. All manner of rounds and weapons can fall into the hands of criminals, with high – and low – velocities. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for ballistic protection and so you should always ensure you choose the right armour.

As with edged blade weapon vests, ballistic armour is categorized by protection level: II, IIIa or IV. Levels II and IIIa are manufactured to provide protection against the most common firearms, such as the 9mm .44 Magnum. These are typically worn for situations in which a lower level of firearms resistance is expected.

However, for protection against high-velocity bullets from larger caliber weapons, level IV ballistic armour is essential. This is most commonly used by SWAT teams and military forces as it can protect against submachine guns and rifles.

Level IV armour vests incorporate plates into their design, created from such robust materials as Dyneema polyethylene or even ceramics for optimum reinforcement. Being prepared for an expected threat before entering a situation is essential. To perform duties to the best of your ability, you must feel reassured that your armour will protect you.

You must choose between covert, overt or covert/overt body armour. These are designed to suit various situations and selecting the right one for the right task is vital.

{Discrete protection: Covert}

As the name suggests, covert armours provide a high level of discrete protection and are worn beneath clothing. They are typically donned by officers performing close protection or undercover operations, and are manufactured to be as thin as possible without compromising quality. They are generally fitted with moisture wicking fabrics for cooling comfort over long periods and are unmatched for low-key protection.

{Displayed protection: Overt}

Overt armour is worn above clothing and is most commonly black, though other colors are produced for various applications. Patrol officers and SWAT teams can be seen wearing black vests over their uniforms – there is often no need to disguise protection. Overt vests are not required to be specifically thin or implement cooling fabrics. (For a warning about the hazards of exterior armour see the sidebar.)

{Multiple applications: Covert/Overt}

For officers operating in areas posing various risks (exposure to sharp and blunt weapons, firearms etc.), some armours combine covert and overt features for versatile protection. Covert/overt vests can be worn comfortably beneath or on top of clothing, for discrete or clear protection. They are designed to provide more protection than standard covert vests, but will be thinner than normal overt – specific vests.

{Maximum coverage: Choosing the right size}

Size is a key factor when choosing armour, whatever the situation you face. This is more important than basic comfort – the wrong fit can leave you exposed. A vest is designed to protect vital organs from an attack, as opposed to the full torso – to ensure maximum protection, it should reach no lower than the navel.

If a vest hangs around the groin, it’s too big. By stopping at the navel area, it still protects the vital organs without being cumbersome. If a vest restricts movement, it may place the wearer in danger, defeating its own purpose.

An officer needs a full range of motion: sitting, bending, crouching, running – your vest should never interfere with your mobility or flexibility. Size guides are available to ensure a vest matches your build.

{Safety first and foremost}

You should always check the condition of a vest before putting it on. If there are any signs of extensive wear or damage, DO NOT use it. If there are any flaws with the armour, this could negate its protective value, leaving you exposed to danger. Raise any concerns with a superior, and be sure you have adequate protection before entering any dangerous situation.

The nature of a police officer’s work means each situation must be approached with caution and, with so many dangerous weapons in the wrong hands, protection can never be taken for granted. Armour can mean the difference between life and death.

Take the time to ensure you have the best vests for the situations you face, and stay safe.


Chris Taylor is the director of communications for SafeGuard Clothing. Contact:

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