Comfort Level

Manufacturers meet the growing demand for better women's body armor with new designs, new technology and a unique line of new products

     Chrissy Piper, director of marketing and sales operations for First Choice Armor, says her company's new product, the cap plate, is available in a women's version to serve a different, but no less specialized, branch of law enforcement: the female SWAT officer. "It's kind of like a trauma plate on steroids," she says, "it not only offers special capabilities above and beyond those [specified by] the National Institute of Justice, it also offers knife and blade protection."

     First Choice Armor offers a variety of body armor lines that feature male and female products. "Every time we design something, we design it knowing that there are men and women in law enforcement and that they have totally different fit issues," says Piper. The company's Paradigm line of tactical vests, for example, is available in men's and women's fits, as are the company's Synergy Series of concealable vests.

     Whether a woman chooses a vest created with new technology or one reshaped from existing templates her best chance at ending up with a well-fitting vest starts with proper measuring. A female officer who hasn't been measured properly will most likely end up with a vest that doesn't fit, say experts, which could result in not wearing the vest at all.

     "A vest is only going to be safe if you wear it," says Piper. "And if you're uncomfortable in it or you don't feel like you can do your job in it, then you're less likely to wear it at all." This is true of male and female officers, but Olsen sees some irony when women don't wear their body armor, because surveys have shown that women are more likely to want to wear bullet-resistant vests than are their male colleagues. "The women were the best about wanting to do daily vest wear but in many cases they had the worst choice of equipment," he says. In the past, this was due to the narrow selection of vests available to women. Today, though, the main reason a female officer will toss her vest in the trunk of a patrol vehicle instead of wear it on duty, has to do with improper fit.

     "That's one reason the measuring process is extremely important," says Crawley. "Women have to have a certified measuring person who understands the female body. We have a comprehensive, exacting measuring system. People can get embarrassed about providing measurements that run from nipple to nipple and nipple to armpit, but you have to get this information. These measurements are very important."

     SAVVY, among others, offers training to female officers on how to measure for female body armor. Many body armor companies, such as First Choice Armor, will also send a measuring professional or a measuring team to a department or an agency on request to measure the female officers who need vests.

Future technology

     Body armor companies continue to invest in research and development, looking for the next big thing in bullet-resistant protection technology. Several companies are on the verge of rolling out next-generation products that may well revolutionize the industry.

     No company spokespersons want to get too deep into the specifics of what their latest and greatest technology will be. It is true, though, that some of the inventions about to become reality in the body armor industry seem truly space-age compared to the technology that was available to manufacturers only a few years ago.

     Liquid body armor, for example, may be one technology that will be on the market soon. It's soft and pliable until something strikes it, at which point it hardens into an impenetrable shell capable of absorbing the impact of a bullet from, for example, a sniper rifle. Nano-fiber and carbon-tube fiber, anywhere from four to 14 times as strong as steel but thinner and lighter than current ballistic materials, is also under development for use in manufacturing both women's and men's body armor.

     As a result, it will become easier and more comfortable than ever for women officers — and their male colleagues — to stay safe and vest up.

     Body Armor

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