Best Body Armor for Law Enforcement | Level IIIA Vs. Level III & Level IV

Best Body Armor for Law Enforcement | Level IIIA Vs. Level III & Level IV

Many of our readers have seen our blogs on the NIJ Guidelines and the F.B.I. LEOKA Program.

Even though the 2021 statistics haven’t been published, The Officer Down Memorial Page has records of 51 law enforcement officers (LEOs) being killed by guns so far in 2021

According to the F.B.I., we lost 46 officers to gunfire in all of 2020 and we sit in October with 2 full months left. One thing I learned as a former LEO was that the Holiday season brings more crime and violence. 

2021 is already the 4th deadliest year for LEOs, and according to the Crime Data Explorer (CDE) for the F.B.I., December (49) is one of the deadliest months every year for LEOs.

March is the deadliest month (51) so far since they started keeping official records in 2011. 

Shotstop® can provide the newest generation of LEOs with body armor that matches the advancements in ballistic technology.

Based on the trends in society, there are only two Levels of Body armor that can meet the requirements of a modern police officer; Level III Level IV plates

Our goal with this blog is to provide every LEO around the world with the best tools to do their job.

We know how inherently dangerous the life of a police officer is, but we also know that they deserve the best gear to bring them home to their families. 

Once you see the comparisons, I think most of you will agree that Level IIIA body armor is no longer the right choice for LEOs.

How Has Gun Manufacturing Improved in the Last 5 Years?

When it comes to promoting our body armor we often explain why we’re so confident in our products, but don’t talk about the ballistics as much as we’d like to. 

Looking at modern ballistics and the platforms (frames) gun manufacturers can build around rifle-caliber bullets is sometimes a scary realization.

We’d like to help educate our readers and customers on what we think the best body is for .308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 5.56mm NATO, and 7.62x39mm Bullets. 

Every industry no matter their product specification is always trying to make their products better and more efficient than before. 

Many gun manufacturers are able to produce a gun platform that is small enough to conceal and legally be considered a handgun, and still has the power of a rifle. Let’s get into the newest style of weaponry faced by LEOs. 

What is an AR Pistol?

Some topics have become very heated topics to cover and an AR-style pistol is one of the most contentious.

For the sake of clarity and law, I’ll give you the federal government response from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)

According to the ATF, a pistol is “a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand”. 

A pistol also has to have “a  short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s)”.

An AR-pistol is built from the frame of an AR-15, but it has the length of barrel and stock classification of a pistol.

For example, An AR-15 is a rifle that’s classified as having a barrel 16” or longer and fixed stock meant to shoot from your shoulder with two hands. 

An AR-pistol has to be less than 26” in total length and has a barrel less than 16”, doesn’t have a fixed stock, and it’s designed to be shot with one hand

If you're interested in conducting more research, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell is the authority I use.

What’s the Problem for Police?

The problem for LEOs is that some of these compact pistols are chambered in .308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 5.56mm NATO, and 7.62x39mm Bullets. 

The majority of LEOs wear Level 3A body armor, designed to stop pistol caliber bullets, not a 7.62x63mm M2AP (30-06 Springfield) or a 7.62x51mm M80 (.308 Winchester) bullet. 

Concealment

AR-style pistols use a brace system instead of a stock to stabilize the heavier recoil and power from a rifle caliber round.

Many of these braces can be collapsed and concealed much in the same way people are able to use a full size pistol as a CCW.

Rifle-Caliber Bullets

Since most LEOs wear only Level 3A body armor, there is no way our officers can expect to be protected by an assailant using an AR-pistol or AR-15 rifle. 

The most common AR-pistols are chambered in 5.56mm NATO (M193), 7.62x39mm (MSC), 7.62x63mm M2AP, and 7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ.

The biggest commonality of these bullets is that they will treat any Level 3A body armor made today like Guggisberg Swiss Cheese (#1 swiss cheese). As good as the cheese is, you don’t want your body armor to be compared to it. 

Protection From Semi-Auto Rifle-Calibers

When we talk about the rate of fire for a pistol vs that of an AR-15, nobody is going to confuse the 2 weapon systems. 

One of the most important characteristics of body armor is its ability to stop multiple strikes from a gun. 

A couple of likely reasons more officers are being shot and killed is the improvement of ballistic technology (speed, precision, and power of the bullet) and higher rates of fire

According to the F.B.I. (Table 18: Use of Firearm by Victim Officer), the rate of fire against officers has increased dramatically. 

The average number of rounds fired at officers from 2018-2020:

2018

5.7 shots per incident

2019

14.4 shots per incident

2020

11.1 shots per incident


As a police officer, this has to be a very sobering and concerning trend. With the ability to shoot more rounds in less time has put LEOs in a position where they must count on their armor to take multiple hits without penetration

Which Level of Body Armor is Best for Modern Ballistics and Technology?

Let's consider the F.B.I. statistics on how many times LEOs are getting shot at in each altercation.

Each year it seems to be going up, LEOs must have armor that can take multiple hits without breaking

The armor needs to be able to match the advanced ballistics and weaponry of the gun market.

Walking around with Level 3A body armor works great for pistol calibers, but will have similar effects as a T-shirt against a 5.56mm NATO M855 or 7.62x39mm. 

There are only two Levels of Body armor that can meet the requirements of a modern police officer; Level III Level IV plates. 

Shotstop® Level IIIA Body Armor Vs. NIJ III Body Armor? 

Average Level IIIA and Level III body armor have much more in common than people realize.

When you consider Shotstop® Level 3 armor plates, you see even less of a reason to wear Level IIIA armor inserts.

Most officers choose Level IIIA because it’s lighter, more comfortable, and practical.

However, when you consider the Duritium® Level III+PA Plate (10x12”) is only 5.4 lbs for both front and back plates, there is no comparison. 

NIJ Level III armor is rated to stop rifle caliber bullets, but it’s only meant to test the 7.62x51mm 149 grain bullet with 1 successful stop.

This is no fault of the NIJ because they can only test so many calibers with the limited time they have a available.

 Our Duritium® Level III+PA Plate will also stop penetration from a 12 gauge shotgun, 7.62x39mm, and the 5.56mm NATO (M193) calibers.

This means that our Level III+ body armor will protect you against the most common AR-15, AR-pistol, and hunting caliber.

Pros

Level IIIA Body Armor 

Shotstop® Level III Body Armor

Level IIIA Body Armor is the lightest NIJ-Listed Body Armor type (1.5 lbs/plate on average)

Duritium® Level III+PA Plate is only  2.7 lbs/plate

  • .357 Magnum Handgun
  • .22LR
  • .38 Special
  • .45 ACP
  • .40 S&W
  • 44 Magnum
  • 9mm
    • .357 Magnum Handgun
    • .22LR
    • .38 Special
    • .45 ACP
    • .40 S&W
    • 44 Magnum
    • 9mm
  • 5.56mm NATO (M193)
  • 7.62x39mm
  • 7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ (.308 Winchester)
  • 12 Gauge Shotgun

0.5” thick on average

0.7” for Duritium® Level IV+PA Plate

Soft armor inserts are normally more flexible and comfortable than hard plate armor

Proven by INDEPENDENT NIJ-LISTED LABORATORY to stop multiple strikes from a 7.62x51mm (M80)

15-year Warranty on all Duritium® Level IV+ plates

Our Duritium® Level III body armor offers incredible shock absorbency and distribution to limit the impact of a bullet


Cons

Level IIIA Body Armor 

Shotstop® Level III Body Armor

Only is listed to stop handgun caliber bullets

About 0.2” thicker than Level IIIA

Most soft plate inserts do not offer multiple strike protection.

1 lb heavier than Level IIIA

Soft armor inserts don’t offer much protection from the concussion of a projectile hitting your chest at over 1,000 ft/sec

Soft Armor doesn’t last near as long as our Duritium® Level IV body armor


How Do I Know if Level III Body Armor is Right For Me?

When making the decision to wear a high protection level ballistic plate, it’s important you weigh the pros, cons, and your own personal situation. 

Nobody can tell you what armor you should wear because not every officer faces the same threats. However, the advancement of technology has allowed Shotstop® to produce the lightest NIJ-Listed Level III body armor. 

There are several questions that you can ask yourself to come to your own conclusions about whether or not Level III body armor is right for you. 

  • Will a 5.56 NATO M193 penetrate my body armor?
  • Will a .308 Winchester penetrate my body armor?
  • Do I have the potential to face off against a rifle?
  • Will my body armor stop multiple hits from AR-15 or AR-pistol?
  • Does my body armor absorb the force of a bullet?

  • These are important questions to consider anytime you choose your level of protection. If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you at least need to wear Level III+ armor

    What is the Best Lightweight Level III Body Armor?

    The Duritium® Level III+PA Plate is the lightest, thinnest, and most durable Level III plate available today. 

    For starters the Duritium® Level III+PA Plate comes in both SAPI and Shooters Cut plates with 5 sizes for each cut. The ability to customize your body armor for your own personal body type is a very underrated feature. 

    We offer 8x10”, 8.75” x 11.75”, 9.5” x 12.5”, 10" x 12", 11" x 14" to fit every officer and soldier from small to large, male to female, skinny to robust. 

    All of our Duritium® Level III+PA Plates are no more than 0.7” thick and are multi-curve plates to accommodate female officers and men with larger chests or belly’s. This added feature makes a huge difference in the level of comfort and we build it standard with our Level III plates.

    Why Should I Choose the Duritium® Level III+PA Plate?

    If you’re reading this blog and wearing Level IIIA body armor, think long and hard about how much of a difference 1 lb makes per plate. 

    If you told me that I could get rifle protection and still be able to keep my low profile and lightweight, I’d ask what the catch is? 

    Once you pick up our Level III+PA plate, you’re never going to want to go back to pistol caliber armor. When you consider the number of bullets officers are facing per incident (11.1 in 2020), the higher calibers from smaller platform guns, and advancement in ballistics, it makes a lot of sense to make the switch to Level III+ armor.

    We also offer a free 15-year warranty with purchase of any of our Level III plates. This warranty is at least 3x longer than any of our competitors. 

    Choosing our Duritium® Level III+PA plate gives you the added protection of stand-alone hard plate armor and the durability to stop multiple strikes from rifle caliber bullets. 

    Shotstop® Level IV Body Armor Vs. NIJ IIIA Body Armor? 

    Looking through the portfolios of companies that sell Level IIIA Body Armor, I get why LEOs would want to wear a 1.5 lb insert instead of a heavier Level IV plate. However, when you look at the specs of our Level 4 plates, Shotstop® compares well in weight and thickness.

    Pros

    Level IIIA Body Armor 

    Shotstop® Level IV Body Armor

    Level IIIA Body Armor is the lightest NIJ-Listed Body Armor type (1.5 lbs/plate on average)

    Duritium® Level IV+HA is only 4.5 lbs/plate

    • .357 Magnum Handgun
    • .22LR
    • .38 Special
    • .45 ACP
    • .40 S&W
    • 44 Magnum
    • 9mm
      • .357 Magnum Handgun
      • .22LR
      • .38 Special
      • .45 ACP
      • .40 S&W
    •  .308 Winchester (M80 FMJ)
    • 44 Magnum
    • 9mm
    • 30-06 Springfield (M2AP)
    • 5.56mm NATO (M193)
      • 5.56x45mm 62 grain steel core (SS109)
    • M855A1
    • 7.62x39mm
    • 7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ
    • 12 Gauge Shotgun

    0.5” thick on average

    0.9” for Duritium® Level IV+HA Plate

    Soft armor inserts are normally more flexible and comfortable than hard plate armor

    Proven by INDEPENDENT NIJ-LISTED LABORATORY to stop multiple strikes from a 30-06 M2AP (Armor-Piercing bullet)

    10-year Warranty on all Duritium® Level IV+ plates

    Our Duritium® Level IV body armor offers incredible shock absorbency and distribution to limit the impact of a 30-06 bullet


    Cons

    Level IIIA Body Armor 

    Shotstop® Level IV Body Armor

    Only is listed to stop handgun caliber bullets

    Our Duritium® Level IV body armor weighs a almost 5 lbs more than the average Level IIIA soft armor inserts

    Most soft plate inserts do not offer multiple strike protection.

    Soft armor inserts don’t offer much protection from the concussion of a projectile hitting your chest at over 1,000 ft/sec

    Soft Armor doesn’t last near as long as our Duritium® Level IV body armor


    How Do I Know if Level 4 Body Armor is Right for Me?

    There are a few questions that you can ask yourself to come to your own conclusions about whether or not Level IV body armor is right for you. 

  • Will a 5.56 NATO penetrate my body armor?
  • Will 30-06 penetrate my body armor?
  • Will my body armor stop multiple hits from AR-15 or AR-pistol?
  • Does my body armor absorb the force of a bullet?

  • Level IIIA body armor will stop multiple shots from a handgun, but will do nothing against an AR-15 or AR-pistol. 

    The only body armor that can answer yes to the 4 questions above is NIJ-Listed Level 4 armor. 

    If you think that you’ll ever come across an assailant with rifle-caliber ammo, it’s time to start thinking about finding a lightweight level 4 body armor plate set. 

    How Can Shotstop® Help LEOs Prepare for Modern Threats?

    The issue has always been the weight difference between Level 3A plates and Level 4 plates. Nobody wants to be bogged down by heavy armor when they need to be at their best. 

    Many officers have strong feelings about wearing heavy body armor and they are often correct that most Level 4 armor plates are too heavy. 

    Level IV body armor has been traditionally only worn by the military and most armor is made from steel or full ceramic material. Steel-core or fully ceramic body armor is either too bulky, restrictive, and/or heavy.

    Shotstop® addresses the issue of lbs per plate with the lightest, thinnest, and most durable Level IV body armor available. 

    What is the Best Lightweight Level 4 Body Armor?

    The Duritium® Level IV+HA Plate stands alone with a weight of only 4.5 lbs for a 10x12” ballistic plate. 

    The Duritium® Level IV+HA Plate is the highest standard set by the NIJ for protection against ballistic threats.

    Level IIIA body armor is flexible and can conform to your body easier than traditional Level 4 armor. However, there is nothing ordinary or traditional about Duritium® technology. 

    All 4 sizes (8.75” x 11.75”, 9.5” x 12.5”, 10" x 12", 11" x 14") of the Duritium® Level IV+HA plate are multi-curve plates to provide more comfort, especially for female officers or larger LEOs.

    Will the Duritium® Level IV+HA Plate Stop Multiple Strikes From 30-06?

    It’s sometimes funny to think about how excited we get when we see our independent ballistics reports. 

    There is so much work that goes into research, production and distribution that it makes us excited to see our work pay off.

    According to the NIJ, you only have to stop 1 bullet from a 30-06 with your test plates to become NIJ-Listed.

    However, Shotstop® will never settle for mediocre and asked to test our claims of stopping multiple M2AP (30-06) rifle bullets. 

    Not only did our Level IV+HA plate stop 3 consecutive 30-06 bullets from penetrating, but it also was within the safe standard for backforce deformation.

    We also asked the lab to test the newest NIJ standards (NIJ-STD- 0101.07 Level RF3) coming out soon. 

    The reason we want our new plates tested to the newest standards is to ensure our customers that anything coming from Shostop® will always meet the NIJ-Standards.

    Conclusion

    One of the biggest questions to ask yourself after reading this blog, is whether your Level IIIA soft armor inserts are giving you the best chance at surviving a gunshot?

    Whether you choose our Duritium® Level III+PA plates to save on the couple extra pounds or you choose the Level IV plates, if it’s from Shostop® it’s going to help you. 

    I encourage every officer to at least take a deep look into our Duritium® Level III+PA plates.

    At the very least, our Duritium® Level III+PA plate will offer better shock absorption, durability, multiple-strike protection, and warranty. 

    Our Duritium® Level IV plates will provide you with the highest level of protection and reliability available.

    The Duritium® Level IV+HA plate is proven to stop multiple hits from any handheld or shoulder fired weapon you will run across on the streets.

    To make it even easier for LEOs across the country with a shoe-string budget, we offer extensive discounts to organizations that buy in bulk. 

    Please conduct your own research and understand that there are too many unknowns in ballistics to trust your life on handgun-rated body armor. If you’re interested in learning more about our LEO and first responder discounts, contact our sales team at sales@shotstop.com


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