National Institute of Justice (NIJ) | What it Does and Why it Matters

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) | What it Does and Why it Matters

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the Department of Justice.

The purpose of the NIJ is to provide objective and independent knowledge and tools to inform the criminal justice career fields on how to stay safe and reduce crime.


The NIJ conducts independent research on the Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor with the help of the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES).

The most important attribute of the NIJ is their ability to remain objective and only make decisions based on scientific research and experimentation. logo.png

This research and funding are designed to save lives and improve the quality of justice our law enforcement agencies can provide.

This is why every company in the world that wishes to sell ballistic armor in the United States, must meet the requirements set forth by the NIJ.

If you’re looking for a company that is selling armor, ensure they can provide the NIJ letter of approval. Each product has to have its own letter (I.E. ShotStop NIJ Letter).


Who Collaborates with the NIJ?


OLES is an office that specializes in the research and development of all law enforcement equipment and policies. OLES is a specific office under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The NIJ works directly with OLES and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) to provide the most up-to-date standards in ballistic armor capabilities and requirements.

The NLECTC is the organization that oversees and conducts the testing of ballistic armor for the NIJ.

They are strictly responsible for the NIJ Voluntary Compliance Testing Program (CTP).

Once the NLECTC concludes testing, they provide the results to the NIJ, who then determines the classification of armor. 



The NIJ ensured that testing requirements and standards for ballistic armor, gloves, pistols, and stab-proof armor are independent. This means individual companies that throw millions of dollars their way can never corrupt them.

The NIJ has created an agenda to inform the public of their independence and responsibility to science.

The NIJ agenda comprises 6 specific goals. These goals provide a way to ensure the federal government is adhering to the scientific knowledge of the past and continuing to research the newest technologies of the future. 

What is the Strategic Challenges and Research Agenda? 


The NIJ collaborates with NIST, OLES, and the NLECTC to conduct independent scientific research. The goal of this research is to ensure the safety of families, neighborhoods, and communities.

They accomplished this through the research of criminal statistics, such as causation and correlation, regarding victims and assailants.

Understanding where crimes are happening, why they’re happening, and who most often helps to fix the problems.  


Once the research is conducted, the NIJ translates its findings into publications to inform the public and other government agencies about their findings. The research is given to the FBI and local law enforcement communities to work at preventing and reducing criminal activity inside their jurisdictions. The NIJ will work at learning which law enforcement techniques work best at preventing future criminal activity.  


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The use of technology in our society is evident and easier to see with police wearing body and vehicle cameras. These advancements in technology ensure our nation is more fair, transparent, and efficient. The advancement of technology in ballistic armor is ensuring our law enforcement officers (LEOs) are safer while in the line of duty. The NIJ collaborates with the NLECTC to stay ahead of the curve in researching technology that would improve the survival of LEOs. 


The NIJ is serious about improving the social structure in our nation through collaboration. Organizations such as the Social Science Research Council help the NIJ improve the social fabric of our country through active independent research. This collaboration is designed to work with communities to reduce crime and promote justice.  


The NIJ is actively reaching out to new scholars to encourage researchers to apply their life work to improving the criminal justice system. The NIJ also creates an open dialogue with the public by always releasing their findings for free on their website.   


The NIJ understands that we can’t make the world a better place without understanding how everyone in the world is connected. For example, the level of crime across the globe is substantially higher in lower socioeconomic civilizations. This understanding allows the NIJ to work on issues affecting poor communities to reduce crime and improve quality of life. 


The NIJ and Body Armor

The NIJ has been the only governing body to research, test, and regulate the use of body armor in the U.S. since 1972. The NIJ is directly responsible for creating the 1st and only standard for police body armor in the country. Through scientific research and independent testing, the NIJ is responsible for the successful implementation of police body armor that has saved at least 3,000 LEOs. With its success in creating police body armor, the NIJ has created a comprehensive list for ballistic body armor for LEOs and the United States military. The advancements made in ballistic armor are an example of #3 of Strategic Challenges and Research Agenda.



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Body armor is made into 2 types that set the standard for the levels of protection they offer. You can either wear soft or hard armor, depending entirely on what you’re protecting against. For example, soft armor can protect you against small pistol caliber bullets and offer more flexibility and maneuverability. Hard armor is designed to protect you against rifle caliber bullets, such as a 5.56mm (AR-15), or 7.62mm (AK 47). 


Within the 2 types of body armor, there are 2 reasons someone would wear body armor. Protection against ballistics and protection against sharp pointed objects, such as knives, spikes (Ice Picks), and needles. The NIJ has issued separate standards based on both purposes to ensure LEO, military members, and the Department of Corrections have the information they need.

What is the Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor Standard?

The Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor standard is set by the NIJ as a guide to wearing body armor in the field. Ballistic armor is rated in 6 levels of protection, from stopping small pistol caliber bullets, to stopping rifle rounds. The Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology develops all standards based on the rigorous testing outlined in this document. 


*For a Comprehensive Guide to the NIJ Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, read our blog “ShotStop | Buyer's Guide to Ballistic Armor”  

What is Stab Resistance of Body Armor Standard?

The NIJ and OLES collaborated with the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) to develop an international standard in protection against pointed or edged weapons, such as knives or spikes. The NIJ separates this standard into 2 classes (Edge blade, and Spike), based on the type of weapon the armor will defeat. In addition to the 2 classes, there are 3 protection levels (level 1,2,3). Finally, all armor is tested against 2 energy levels (E1, E2), based on the level of penetration allowed before it hits an internal organ. 



Level 1 armor is normally going to be the lightest and most flexible level of protection. However, it can only protect you against low energy threats of less than 17.7 ft-lbs of force (24 J). Level 1 armor is designed to be worn under your clothes to remain covert. With a low-level force, a sharp edge blade is expected to penetrate up to 7mm (.28”). The NIJ has discovered that 7mm of penetration will not penetrate any internal organ. 
The E2 test (overtest) is conducted to increase the energy by 50% to ensure the armor is durable enough to protect you. The overtest for level 1 is similar to someone bigger and stronger stabbing the armor at 26.6 ft-lbs of force (33 J). E2 will penetrate Level 1 armor at 20mm (.79”), which will break skin, but not penetrate any internal organ. 



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Level 1 Stab-Resistant body armor should be worn by Juvenile Corrections Officers and public servants. I do not recommend LEO’s to wear Level 1 because it will not protect against a large man stabbing you in the chest. Level 1 is very light and flexible so it’s more comfortable than Level 2 and 3, but shouldn’t be worn by people in high-risk work environments. 




Level 2 armor is designed to defeat medium energy threats with a stab force of 24.3 ft-lbs of force (33 J). 33 J will cause a 7mm penetration depth on Level 2 armor, but will not disable you.  Level 2 armor is a little heavier and can be either worn overtly or covertly. At the E2 level, this armor will protect you from a stab at 36.9 ft-lbs of force (50 J). A 20mm penetration depth will occur at E2. 



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Level 2 stab-resistant armor should be worn by professionals in the Department of Corrections career fields. This armor can be worn either under your clothes or over your blouse, depending on your purpose. Level 2 armor will protect you against most stab attempts, but not from the strongest of men. I recommend this armor for LEO’s and prison guards, but not in maximum security prisons where the environment is more difficult.

Level 3 armor is similar to Level IV ballistic armor because they’re both meant to work in high-risk areas. Level 3 Stab-Resistant armor will protect you against strikes at the E1 class up to 31.7 ft-lbs of force. With a 7mm penetration depth, you’ll be protected from internal organ damage. At E2, Level 3 armor will limit the penetration depth to 20mm with a 47.9 ft-lbs of force strike.


Level 3 armor is designed to be worn over your blouse to serve as a deterrent against assault. This armor should be worn by all Department of Corrections Officers who interact with the most dangerous of criminals on a daily basis. This armor is normally heavier and should only be worn while in immediate danger. For example, if you’re a Corrections Officer and have to raid a prison cell, this is the armor you should wear. LEO’s who feel a serious threat against stabbings should consider Level 3 while they’re in immediate danger.

Why Should I Trust the NIJ?
The NIJ goes through great lengths to ensure their integrity is always intact when conducting research on criminal justice topics. Once a research proposal is received, it’s sent to an independent panel of experts from academia, manufacturing, and other government organizations for approval. Once the panel makes a recommendation on a topic to study, it’s sent to the NIJ Director who evaluates the data and makes the final approval. Every member of the independent panel must sign an affidavit that states they have no monetary stake in the products or policies being researched. This checks-and-balances procedure ensures the objectivity and integrity of the research are always kept to the highest standards of the federal government.

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