Proper fit is an important element of the protective capability of any officer's vest because it helps to ensure sufficient coverage of the torso and vital organs, while allowing range of motion to perform expected tasks. Proper fit is even more important for female officers because of their unique features.
60% of Female Officers Reported that Their Armor Didn’t Fit Properly
Surveys and workshops with female law enforcement officers reveal that more than 60 percent feel that they have never had an armor that fit properly. In fact, the majority say that their current vest does not fit well and that they have issues in terms of abrasion, pain, numbness and other discomfort.
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An SRO Talks About Female Body Armor
Deputy First Class Teresa Holland of the Frederick County (Md.) Sheriff’s Office, assigned as school resource officer (SRO) for Walkersville High School and its feeder schools, says wearing a vest was uncomfortable at first, but she realized she just had to get used to it. She chooses to wear her gender-neutral vest in an external carrier to increase her comfort while maintaining her safety: “I like the outer carrier because I’m able to breathe more easily. I have worn an internal carrier and I had issues with it being uncomfortable. Also, as an SRO I’m on my feet a lot and moving around all the time, and wearing the external carrier gives me a lot more mobility.
“I love Walkersville and the kids are great, but I still have to get in there and de-escalate things sometimes, and when I do, I need to be mobile,” she adds. “There are times the vest does limit movement, but I’ll take that any day as opposed to not wearing it and having no protection.”
In addition to learning that she preferred the external carrier, Holland also learned that the type of undergarment she wears has an impact on the vest’s comfort: “I learned that I can’t wear a “normal” bra with it. I need to wear a sports bra because it doesn’t create any contours. If a female officer changes around and wears different bras that have different contours, they can change the shape of the vest and overall, it won’t fit as snugly. Sticking with the sports bra helps it maintain the same fit day in and day out.”
Just like male officers, female officers come in a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, and it can be difficult for them to obtain armor that fits them properly. Holland has noticed those difficulties in other areas as well; for example, she orders her uniform pants “big and baggy” to accommodate the difference in female shape.
“Because I’ve aged in this job, I see changes in my body over time,” says Holland, who served as a military police officer, tried a government desk job and then ended up in law enforcement, first in narcotics and now as an SRO. “Women who have had babies while they’re serving in law enforcement also face changes in their bodies, and all of those issues need to be considered when developing equipment that meets our needs.”
Still, even while acknowledging the issues, Holland says she would feel undressed if she were ever to put on her uniform without her vest. Frederick County has a mandatory wear policy, which she likes and honors, and “I’ve never faced gunfire, but I trust that if I ever do, my vest will protect me.”