No excuses

Break mental and physical barriers to body armor wear compliance

   In Nashville, Tenn., body armor protected Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer Carlos Anderson's torso from surface burns and blunt force impact on the roadway. On Nov. 18, 2009, Anderson pulled over a pickup truck for non-working taillights. As Anderson engaged the suspect, the suspect decided he didn't want to go to jail for previous offenses. Standing between the truck and the door, Anderson reached into the truck to extract the suspect who started the truck and drove away with Anderson hanging from the cabin. Anderson hung on, with his legs and feet dragging on the pavement for almost 100 feet. When the suspect steered the vehicle to the right and away from his body, Anderson let go. This allowed him to fall away from the vehicle. Dropping from the truck, he skidded about 15 feet. Anderson was then transported to the hospital where he was treated for road rash burns to his hands, arms, knees and legs, and was released the next day. Before the end of 2009, Anderson returned to full duty.

   Anderson's leather gear and his ballistic vest minimized injuries to his torso. The skid across the pavement shredded his pants and shirt. All of his leather duty gear was ruined, but his ballistic vest is still in service.

   In South Carolina, Officer Maurice Merritt of the Cheraw Police Department demonstrated he understood the value of body armor by doing something that many might consider counter-intuitive. Merritt had already experienced body armor stopping a bullet from a .25-caliber semi-automatic on Nov. 23, 2007, as a Greensboro, N.C., police officer. That shot caused him to suffer a severe back face signature bruise. On Feb. 22, 2010, Merritt was again shot after initiating a traffic stop. The violator fled, resisted arrest and shot Merritt. Realizing his body armor stopped a shot from a .38 caliber pistol, Merritt grabbed the shooter's gun and pulled it into his vest to avoid being shot outside the vest's coverage area, and the vest stopped a second bullet. A hand-to-hand struggle ensued and the criminal shot Merritt in the shoulder then missed twice. Merritt was transported to the hospital and released after 24 hours. Today, he is on leave to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the South Carolina National Guard.

   While the numbers vary somewhat from year to year, Jeff Fackler, with DuPont Protection Technologies, says typically about 58 percent of the Survivors Club saves involve protecting an officer from firearms and weapons that cut or slash. The remaining 42 percent, he says, are saves from accidents or crashes, with vehicle crashes being the most common, 37 percent.

   Fackler emphasizes body armor can save officers from more than just bullets. The Survivors Club includes uncommon examples like a chain saw, lightning and an ox gore.

   "As we talk more about the value of body armor, officers are more motivated to wear it," he says. "Their knowledge of other equipment is pretty detailed. That's not the case when it comes to body armor. Officers need to have a good understanding of why it's important, how it works, what degree of protection it is designed to provide, how to make sure it fits them, and how to take care of it."

Statistics show real danger

   Law enforcement is a dangerous job. Preliminary 2010 law enforcement fatality data released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) in conjunction with the Concerns of Police Survivors, show the number of U.S. officers killed during the first six months of this year is up nearly 43 percent. NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd says the fact that 87 law enforcement officers died already this year is a grim reminder that officers still face grave, life-threatening dangers. Specifically, the data show 31 firearm-related deaths, a 41-percent increase over the first six months of 2009, and 42 traffic-related fatalities, a 35-percent increase.

   Numbers are not available to show which of these officers were wearing body armor, but studies looking at incidents in which law enforcement officers were fatally shot indicate that 42 percent of those fatalities would have been preventable if officers had been wearing body armor. According to FBI statistics, the risk of sustaining a fatal injury for officers who do not wear body armor is 14 times greater than for officers who do. Those statistics demonstrating increased risk for officers who do not wear vests are highlighted in a 2008 IACP resolution recommending all police executives communicate the importance of wearing body armor and adopt a mandatory wear policy for all uniformed personnel.

Make vest wear agency policy

   Ronald McBride serves as the chair of IACP's Police Professional Standards, Image and Ethics Committee and a member of the IACP's Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police SafeShield committee. After 35 years of municipal police service, he joined the IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors' Club team in 2000.

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