For men and women whose daily job puts them at risk for being in the line of fire against a handgun or rifle—such as a member of law enforcement, military warfighter or first responder— body armor can be lifesaving workwear. As such, it’s not only worth the cost to invest in high-quality anti-ballistic products, but to take your time in evaluating your options before making a purchase.
After all, a poor body armor choice can cost a department more than dollars. Improper protective equipment can lead to mission failure, injury or death.
So how do you evaluate the many options out there to ensure you get the highest protection quality possible for your officers, at a price that fits well within your budget?
It’s critical to note that a price tag only tells so much about the true lifetime cost of a body armor solution. Read on for four factors you need to take into account to make a well-informed body armor purchasing decision.
1. Threat-level protection
Unfortunately, long gone are the days when handguns were the most common concern for those providing protective services to civilians. That makes securing advanced threat-level protection of body armor in the field more important than ever.
“It’s just so much easier for someone to get an AR or AK rifle, and to carry them,” says Lieutenant Jamie Lovett of South Carolina. “The people we’re dealing with are carrying these rifles now more and more, so we need something beyond our soft body armor that’s going to stop a rifle round.”
To ensure your officers have rifle-rated protection, verify that your body armor purchase is Level III or Level IV compliant with the standards set forth by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—the only nationally accepted standards for the body armor worn by law enforcement and corrections officers.
Traditionally for those looking to upgrade from handgun protection to rifle-rated protection, this requires the purchasing of new Level III or IV hard body armor to augment soft body armor.
However an In Conjunction With (ICW) solution, such as ShotStop Ballistics’ new Duritium® III ICW Body Armor Plate, can now be added to soft body armor for Level III protection as needed. And ShotStop’s ICW solution, designed for use in conjunction with Level IIIA soft body armor, can be fitted to your existing soft body armor for an instant upgrade without having to purchase and manage an overt carrier.
When making an ICW purchase, determine whether or not it will work with your existing equipment—or if an additional purchase of a rifle plate carrier will be required for use.
Traditionally, when increasing the threat-level protection of your body armor plates, you also face an increase in the weight and bulkiness of the product. And as those who must regularly wear body armor know, “pounds equal pain.”
That makes choosing a body armor plate with advanced threat-level protection at the lightest weight and thinnest profile absolutely critical. Your choice affects the wearer’s comfort over long periods of time, their maneuverability and endurance in the field and, ultimately, how long they’re able to handle the load and thus serve in their role into the future.
“I’m 43 years old, I’m not the youngest cop out here,” says Lovett, who has upgraded his department to ShotStop’s ICW plate. “When we were looking around [at body armor plates] to see if there was a better, more cost-effective option, we wanted something a little bit thinner and lighter.”
The difference in weight and profile is largely determined by the material used to create a plate.
The two most common materials are ceramic and polyethylene. Ceramics are popular as they work well, but they do have some major drawbacks with respect to their construction, particularly when it comes to weight and their limited hit capacity. Polyethylene, meanwhile, is subjected to high-pressure treatment to increase multi-hit performance while decreasing weight.
The newest material technology on the market is ShotStop’s patented Duriitium®, a next-generation polyethylene that has an unusually high tensile strength. It allows for highly-durable, multi-hit plates that are up to 45 percent thinner and up to 200 percent lighter than other plates on the global market at the same protection level.
“I was used to 40-to-50-pound kits, rather than 10 and 12-pound kits,” says Sheriff Stephen J. Levorchick of the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office in Port Clinton, Ohio, who upgraded his SWAT team to Level IV protection and his squad cars to Level III protection through ShotStop. “So when we had the opportunity to pursue good ballistic equipment for our people without weighing them down so much, we had to take it. It’s more protection than we’ve ever provided, at a lighter weight.”
In life-threatening situations, maneuverability and reactivity are essential—a true matter of life and death. With less weight pulling your officers down, their ability to respond quickly to a threat may save the life of a civilian or colleague, or even their own.
When we look good, we feel good. While this trope is often the storyline of television dramas and at the basis of beauty marketing, there may be some truth to the concept of being comfortable in one’s own skin, and the clothing and gear we’re wearing—particularly when that gear has the potential to save our life. The keyword here, again, is comfort.
Studies across various platforms and throughout countless publications indicate a relationship between bodily comfort and cognitive performance. One such study, conducted in 2003 using heavy wool clothing, found that accuracy and reaction time diminished in conditions of extreme discomfort, while another in 2009 found a correlation between lower levels of clothing comfort and poor student test performance.
If you’ve worn body armor in the field, you’re likely not surprised that similar observations have been made in law enforcement. A 2009 study on police comfort, for instance, reported that the fit and properties of a vest were most essential to the overall comfort of participants.
Bottom line? Comfort has a relationship with performance—meaning the wearability of the body armor you choose for your team should be of critical importance.
Here again, durable Duriitium®-based plates shine. As the thinnest and lightest rifle-rated body armor solutions on the market, they ensure the wearer’s comfort and ease of maneuverability so officers can perform their jobs without restriction or distraction
“Although my plate carrier weighs more than my soft body armor, it is ten times more comfortable,” says Lovett. “My soft body armor will bend, fold and scrunch up; it just gets out of whack. The [ShotStop ICW] plates fit absolutely perfectly; they have since day one. They feel good and they’re light. I’d rather wear them than something else.”
Ultimately, no matter what level of protection your body armor is rated to provide, it provides zero protection if officers neglect to wear it routinely due to discomfort—making wearability an essential factor when choosing a solution.
Lastly, when evaluating body armor, it’s important to look beyond the upfront price, factoring in the longevity of the product. A plate that lasts longer will typically have a lower per year value than a plate that must be replaced more frequently.
At a minimum, ensure your plate purchase comes backed by the traditional industry standard of a five-year warranty. And because not all body armor is created equal, you will want to assess the fine print for any stipulations or special terms that may impact the longevity of a plate.
To maximize the cost effectiveness of your purchase, look at solutions that provide a warranty well beyond the minimum—while still providing the advanced, lightweight protection you’re looking for.
Because of the multi-hit durability of its Duritium® technology, ShotStop provides a 15-year warranty on all of its rifle plates, with the exception of its Duritium IV+HS Body Armor Plate, which is backed by a 10-year warranty.
“It was cheaper to buy two [ICW] plates from ShotStop Ballistics than what it was going to cost us to buy one more [ICW] plate to go with our vests from the other place,” Lovett says of his department’s recent purchase decision. “Not only was it more cost effective, it was warrantied at 15 years. You’re talking about a warranty that’s three times the length of the warranty on the plates we’d got before.”
A solid, lengthy warranty also has a hidden administrative benefit: with longer-lasting body armor, your team will have to invest less time shopping for and procuring replacements.
Learn more about Duritium® body armor plates
The threat-level protection, weight, wearability and longevity of any body armor product are of critical importance when making a purchasing decision, well beyond the price tag.
Fortunately, with the introduction of Duritium® technology to the market, you can explore body armor solutions that excel in all categories while being cost effective to fit your budget—and ultimately provide your team with protective plates to help keep them comfortable, mentally sharp and bodily safe in the line of duty.
To learn more about how ShotStop Ballistics’ Duritium®-based ballistics technologies compare to other options on the market, or to take your best shot and test them out for yourself in a live demo, click here to contact a ShotStop body armor expert.