Invest in your vision

     During the average shift (as if there was one), officers can be exposed to spills and splashes, long days in sunlight, projectile objects and people who simply don't cover their mouth when they cough. The potential for exposure to caustic solids and liquids is enormous, and eyes can even be a portal to common diseases like SARS and measles. Research also suggests that ultraviolet (UV) exposure can cause painful eye injuries and contribute to cataract formation and other long-term injuries.

     Tactical eyewear creates a protective barrier to these harmful elements. Most people will don glasses when using machinery or working around chemicals. It is only logical that eye protection should be standard issue for law enforcement officers, as well.

Frameless eyewear

     Most tactical eyewear products use interchangeable lenses, of which there are two basic designs: lenses that fit into a flexible frame, or frames that snap into recesses on the edges of the lens. The latter "frameless" design usually has a snap-in nosepiece. This popular style offers users an almost unrestricted view devoid of frame lines.

     Frameless eyewear and interchangeable lenses have revolutionized the industry. For example, Eye Safety Systems (ESS) has two versions of the ICE eye shields, the ICE 2.4 and the ICE NARO. The NARO is a smaller version designed for narrow faces. Both versions accept prescription inserts for nearly all combat goggles, and another insert for tactical sunglasses. Revision Eyewear offers a similar package. The prescription insert fits Revision's Sawfly glasses and the Desert Locust goggle.

     Frames are generally made of rubber or bendable plastic, and most have strategic strips of tacky rubber on the temple and optional retention straps. If the wearer uses a prescription, the lens is suspended from the nose bridge on a lightweight carrier.

     Frameless models extend around the side of the eye, usually in stylish "wings." An example of this style can be found in the unrestricted view of the ESS ICE 2.4. The additional protection is essential on the shooting range, as well as on bike patrol, where road hazards can enter from the side of the face.


     Sunglasses with snap-in parts also provide a tactical advantage. The components flex when struck or shocked, which cushions impact. New polycarbonate lenses are stronger and more flexible than products from just a few years ago.

     Polycarbonate has its roots in the aerospace industry. While plastics are usually baked into their final shapes, polycarbonates are injection molded. The result is optically clearer, shatter-resistant, lighter and more flexible material.

     This is ideal for protective lenses. While some materials shatter when hit, polycarbonate merely dimples when struck by hard projectiles. And when it does fracture, it minimizes secondary projectiles. The lenses less brittle and also readily accept scratch-resistant coatings.

     Officers can benefit from religiously wearing eye protection while performing routine tasks. Consider the fact that standard eyewear tends to break the seal on earmuffs when training on the range. To address this situation, Law Enforcement Technology testers tried the SoundVision product by FullPro Protective Gear. With a lens that attaches to the outside of the earmuff by VELCRO, this product — an inexpensive high impact lens — makes sense.

     Most of the glasses tested were polycarbonate, except for the Rudy Project EKYNOX SX. Rudy Project uses ImpactX NXT, an optical polymer used in high-risk applications like Apache helicopter windshields. The material is even lighter and more transparent than polycarbonate. It also offers photochromic (darkening when in sunlight) and polarization features.

Safety standards

     Safety lenses have several standards by which to base their level of protection. These usually consist of a series of agreements on the quality of a product, based on input from the industry. Furthermore, the agreements are proven by an accreditation agency.

     The ANSI Z80.3-2001 standard is applied to consumer (non-prescription) eyewear, and includes an impact resistance test mandated by the FDA. The test requires that the basic lens design must successfully resist the drop of a steel ball at 50 inches under certain laboratory conditions. The lens must also allow the user to discern certain colors, specifically traffic signals and devices, optical correctness and fire resistance.

     The impact test for protective eyewear most used in the policing industry is ANSI Z87, which has more stringent requirements than ANSI Z80.3-2001. We found that tactical eyewear companies like Wiley-X Inc., Oakley, ESS, Revision, Paulson Manufacturing and Rudy Project proudly display their "crash test" ratings; consumers don't have to search for them. ANSI Z87 ratings also include requirements for the quality of the lens, its ability to be disinfected and its optical clarity.

     Tactical situations call for goggles or frames that flex with the lens, without coming apart. For Bobster Eyewear, a company that has a lot of experience in the motorcycle eyewear industry, designing tactical eyewear is a natural transition. The Bobster Prowler has closed cell foam around the edge like goggles but convertible ear pieces that turn goggles into sunglasses.

     Other goggles that really grabbed testers' attention were the Advancer and the Profile Turbofan from ESS. The former has click open lenses for ventilation, and the latter has a quiet two-speed fan that can run 150 hours on an AA battery.

     Although OSHA only requires ANSI Z87.1-1989 (OSHA 1910.133(b)) for environments that are potentially injurious to eyes, most tactical glasses meet or exceed the ANSI Z87.1-2003 standard, which has a few additional hurdles. If the ANSI Z87.1-2003 has a plus sign at the end (ANSI Z87.1-2003 +), the product is designated as high impact. Although the 2003 standard is voluntary at this time, most tactical eyewear manufacturers seek this certification. In fact, All ESS eyewear tested met the ANSI Z87.1-2003 and U.S. Military MIL-PRF-31013 .15-caliber ballistic impact test, and most ESS eyewear we tested met the higher MIL-V-4351C .22-caliber ballistic impact test — a test where projectiles are fired at the lens.

     No one would go as far as saying that some eyewear will stop bullets. They won't. However, the testimonial from folks in the field surviving shrapnel and secondary projectiles speaks for itself.

Fitting prescription lenses

     Prescription wearers have to make some decisions when it comes to tactical eyewear. For example, if the officer is wearing prescription sunglasses for patrol, what does he do when entering a dark building? There are several options, depending on the strength of the prescription. However, the officers should always carry a spare pair of glasses with clear lenses in their shirt pocket.

     When officers go in for a prescription, it is important that they tell — or show — the optometrist what kind of glasses they intend to wear. This will ensure that the best part of the lens is in the center of the wearer's vision. Prescription inserts ride a little higher on the nose bridge and are suspended between the protective lens and the officer's eyes.

     It is also important that officers receive regular eye exams. If a prescription is old or inaccurate, it can cause eye fatigue, migraines and other problems..

     One choice for prescription eyewear is the Rudy Project EKYNOX SX. Some of Rudy's models have flip-up lenses for eyeglasses. Testers especially liked the EKYNOX SX with photochromic red IMPACT X lenses. They gave a high contrast view at dusk and a protective smoke in bright light.

     Officers who opt to use the prescription lens carrier that goes between the eyes and the outside lens should spend a few extra dollars and have an anti-reflective coating placed on the prescription lenses. This will help vision at night.

Don't buy cheap sunglasses

     Most eye specialists recommend at least 98-percent UV protection for any sunglass. Polycarbonate lenses naturally provide 100-percent protection. It is better to wear sunglasses in the bright sunlight than to have unprotected eyes in the shade. They are even effective for contact lens wearers who have UV protective contacts.

     Cheap sunglasses can cause fatigue, as poorly manufactured optics are only accurate in the center of vision. If things on the edge of the optics are out of focus, this can cause the user to overcompensate. First, the brain recognizes that the glasses work best only in the center. The wearer will turn their head rather than roll their eyeballs. Not only is this less efficient, but it could cause an officer to look away from a greater threat.

     Wearing eye protection keeps officers from common hazards like windy conditions to unique hazards like having a branch flipped in the face during a foot pursuit. The highway patrol officer who bends over a hissing radiator can work another day because of lens technology. An officer can return to work after a broken bone or two, but a moderate eye injury can end a career.

     Tactical eyewear has always been fashionable. But in a profession like law enforcement, it should be common sense to wear glasses. In fact, it should be mandatory.

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches Administration of Justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.