Why You Should Wear a Vest
It is not possible to predict if or when any law enforcement officer will face a deadly encounter. However, ballistic-resistant body armor has been proven to be a highly effective life-saving piece of protective equipment that officers should wear whenever they are on duty. CJTEC has compiled summaries of more than 190 incidents reported in the media since 2015 where officers have been saved by wearing their ballistic-resistant body armor. These incidents demonstrate how officers can find themselves in life-threatening situations in an instant. The officers in these incidents are alive today and escaped serious injury because they made one decision: to put their body armor on before beginning their shift.
Body Armor Saves Lives. Be Safe. Wear your armor. Every Shift.
An Officer's Widow Encourages Others to Wear Their Vests
A Buffalo (NY) City police officer decided not to wear his protective vest while on patrol. When Officer Charles E. “Skip” McDougald and his partner tried to stop a 19-year old man who was emerging from an alley, the man shot McDougald. Had he been wearing his vest, there is a good chance he would have survived. 18 years later, his widow continues to encourage police officers to always wear their protective body armor. (More details can be found in PoliceOne.com's article.)
A Commanding Officer Encourages Her Officers to Wear Their Vests
Police, especially supervisors and command staff, never want to receive a call that one of their own has been shot. When this call does come, it is an indescribable experience. For an officer and his commander with the Louisville Metro Police Department, this call did come. The officer who was shot in the chest survived because he chose to wear his vest. This is something that the Commander encourages her officers to do at the beginning of each shift. Read details of the incident on WDRB News.
Officer Can’t Even Imagine Not Wearing His Body Armor
As Deputy Bryan Bittenmaster of the Frederick County (Md.) Sheriff’s Office has gained experience in the field, he’s learned to take extra steps to protect himself, but “the biggest step I can take to protect myself is to always wear my body armor.”
Bittenmaster, who began his public safety career as an emergency medical technician in New Jersey, says he can’t imagine leaving his house in uniform without wearing his armor, and when he has a detail in “soft” clothing, he feels naked.
“The vest is a force multiplier for survival. It falls in line with physical fitness, marksmanship and other steps you can take to protect yourself,” Bittenmaster says.
From his years working as an EMT, Bittenmaster has first-hand knowledge of the devastating impacts of gunfire on an unprotected body: “Cops have a tendency to think it’s only the big guns that can kill. Sometimes it can be something as small as a .22 that hits the femoral artery and the person bleeds out. I’ve also seen people take a .45 hit a millimeter below the aorta and live to tell about it. I’ve seen people survive 30 shots from a handgun, I’ve seen people survive shots to the head and chest.”
In his six years providing emergency medicine, Bittenmaster worked in both rural and inner-city areas, responding to a gamut that ranged from car accidents to gunshot wounds due to gang violence. He started as a volunteer EMT at age 17 and made it his profession a year later, but he always dreamed of working in law enforcement.
“I thought working in EMS first would give me a valuable tool that I could carry with me to a law enforcement career,” he says. And that knowledge is what led him to take his department-issued emergency tourniquet and wear it in a pouch on his duty belt, something that not all deputies do. That way, if he is seriously injured, he can apply the tourniquet and possibly prevent himself from “bleeding out,” a common cause of death from trauma. In the rural areas of Frederick County, where backup can be 20 minutes or more away, that’s extremely important.
“We’re all issued the tourniquets, but we aren’t required to carry them on our belts,” Bittenmaster says. “We’re also issued medical kits that we keep on our headrests, and if one of us is injured, the next deputy on the scene knows exactly where to get the kit and what’s in it.”
Although acknowledging the importance of carrying medical equipment and keeping up with physical fitness and training, wearing a vest is still the biggest safety precaution a deputy can take, says Bittenmaster, who has no trouble faithfully following Frederick County’s mandatory wear policy. Most days, for most officers and deputies, are routine, but an officer never knows what could happen on any given shift.
Fraternal Order of Police Statement
On Dec. 23, 1975, Seattle Patrolman Raymond T. Johnson was shot. Fortunately, he was wearing soft body armor crafted through a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Defense and Justice, and he survived. Since that shooting, the International Association of Chiefs of Police/DuPont® Survivors Club has certified more than 3,100 saves. That is 3,100 law enforcement officers who went home to their families and 3,100 fewer names on the Wall of Remembrance at Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C.
There is no legislation, no government program, no grant or public-private partnership that can erase the sad fact that law enforcement officers will die in the line of duty.
But there is something YOU can do, something every officer can do and that is to wear your vest.
Read the Statement by the Fraternal Order of Police
You would not go into the field without your sidearm or your badge. Why would you do so without a vest?
And whereas soft body armor is specifically designed to provide ballistic protection, it also greatly increases the safety and survivability of other injuries: car crashes, physical fights, falls and other trauma. On average, our nation’s law enforcement officers suffer about 60,000 assaults in a year, resulting in an average of 16,000 injuries. In many cases, soft body armor is a factor in the officer’s escaping the assault without injury or reducing the impact of that injury.
In many ways, body armor is the single most important and effective piece of equipment a law enforcement officer can possess.
I make this statement not only as the National President of the Fraternal Order or Police or as retired police officer. I also make it as a father. My son is an active duty officer. His safety is at risk on every shift and I’ve made it very clear to him how important it is for him to be wearing his vest.
Wear your vest. It could save your life.
Fraternal Order of Police
Body Armor in Corrections
The potential for deadly assaults on those who work in prisons and jails across the country is much different from assaults on law enforcement officers. The threats to corrections officers most often are in the form of knife blades and spike-style weapons that have been improvised from a variety of materials and objects commonly available in corrections facilities. You can see examples of these weapons in the photography series of collected shanks shown below.
Stab and Slash Threats
To help corrections officers obtain the protection they need against the real-world threats found in corrections settings, NIJ is updating the Stab Resistance of Personal Body Armor, NIJ Standard-0115.00. For a brief on this revision, download NIJ's Fact Sheet, Addressing Real-World Stab and Slash Threats Body Armor Standard (PDF).
Corrections in Action – A Story in Photos
Related Content in the News and Magazines
- Bulletproof vests, seat belts not worn in police officer deaths, USA Today, May 12, 2015.
- Slain NY cop's widow attests to cost of not wearing vest, PoliceOne.Com article, May 4, 2015.
- Bullet-resistant vest saves LMPD officer's life, WDRB News (Kentucky), June 15, 2016.
- Vests Save Lives: A Reminder of the Importance of Wearing Soft Body Armor - by Sergeant Adrienne Quigley, Arlington County (VA) Police Department, Police Chief magazine, vol. 75, issue 10, October 2008.