Now ready for boxing, the vests are placed in a plastic bag with an information sheet and a copy of the original order.
But the story does not end with the vest in the box. It continues today with further research and development and an ongoing effort to increase wear rates. "Innovation is still happening," promises Wagner. "There is a constant drive to develop lighter weight, more comfortable solutions to protect officers against all threats. And there is a lot of technology still left out there to be able to achieve that."
Long gone are the days of the phone book strapped to an officer's chest. Tomorrow's soft armor vest may truly be a second skin.Weights and measurements
How a vest fits and feels is just as important as the protection it provides. As Georg Olsen, general manager of U.S. Armor, points out, "The best recommendation for body armor happens on the bench in the police locker room or in the front seat of a patrol car. An officer is more likely to ask a co-worker what vest he selected and why."
Comfort is the key guiding factor in armor use. If a vest is not comfortable, it will not be worn. If it is not worn, it will not provide the life-saving protection.
When purchasing soft body armor, officers have two options: standard sizing and custom measurement. Some officers will comfortably and accurately fit standard sizes, but most people do not fit the mold and will benefit from a custom, tailored fit.
Standard measurement points when purchasing a vest include around the chest, around the waist, front of vest standing, front of vest sitting and length of back. U.S. Armor includes the "third dimension" measurement, measuring from the top of the belt in the front to the top of the belt in the back. As Olsen points out, "The third dimension is the great equalizer. Human bodies are three dimensional, not two. If they were, this would be simple. We'd just use a pair of scissors and a cardboard cutout."
Although three officers may have the same height and weight, they may have different vest needs. One may have a long torso and short legs while another has a short torso and long legs. If one officer is more rotund, he will have different fit and measurement needs as well. "Females particularly need the third dimension," notes Olsen.
Aside from cut, weight is often a determining factor in armor purchases. Olsen warns that the weights printed on promotional brochures often can be deceiving. If a department chooses to consider the weight, they should consult the National Institute of Justice test results. With these reports, all vests from all manufacturers are being weighed at the same location and by the same people.
Using U.S. Armor's own products as an example, Olsen brings to light the difference in weights between the Enforcer Terminal Velocity and the Enforcer XLT. Although the XLT weighs slightly more than the Terminal Velocity (a difference of 0.29 ounces ballistic weight per square foot at Level IIA protection), to feel the two vests in hand and on the body, an officer would assume the XLT were the lighter vest.
"Comfort and wearability have much less to do with weight than base materials used and methodology in the construction of those materials," says Olsen.
Because of this, Olsen recommends all departments conduct a wear test before purchasing. Departments should select a couple officers — including a female officer and the officer known to complain the most or the harshest critic — to wear various vests for a couple weeks at a time. Manufacturers should be willing to supply vests for this test period.
"How the vest fits and wears, how the officer feels about it, and whether he feels comfortable wearing it and inclined to wear it, all come into play when purchasing vests," says Olsen.Proper protection
Determining the appropriate threat level of soft body armor to wear on patrol is not so much dictated by National Institute of Justice (NIJ) recommendations but by the daily threats on an officer's beat. The NIJ recommends Level IIA for day-to-day wear, but this may not be sufficient depending on what the criminals in the area are carrying or even what the standard duty handgun is.