Bringing the Cover With You

When there are no trees to hide behind, body bunkers provide tactical protection

     of all primary school shootings and attempted shootings that have occurred since 1997, fewer than a quarter of them have occurred in communities whose populations exceeded 50,000. At least half a dozen occurred in areas designated as unincorporated or townships of small population densities. Although there has never been a hard and fast rule, it is safe to say that no area, including isolated communities, is immune from the threat of the active shooter. Active shooter situations are one good reason why rural law enforcers need ballistic shields.

     When the general public pictures an officer using a ballistic shield, the idea conjures up images of SWAT officers forming an entry team, command centers and deliberate operations. But no one should discount the rural deputy miles away from the next nearest deputy.

     A ballistic shield, sometimes called a body bunker or ballistic blanket, is an officer-portable device designed to provide additional protection against projectiles. The lightweight, portable versions are available in several levels of protection, usually as a flexible ballistic blanket. The most common are generally only effective against standard handgun bullets.

     Like the patrol officer's vest, the ballistic shield is composed of fibers designed to disperse the energy of a projectile. They should be employed in conjunction with, not in lieu of, the vest.

Rural agencies, unique needs

     The Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center (RULETC) is commissioned to assist agencies on technology issues, including information sharing and helping them develop and integrate off-the-shelf technology. Scott Barker, deputy director of RULETC, notes that rural law enforcement agencies have a significant need for ballistic shields and reduced resources to purchase them.

     According to a survey conducted by RULETC, in conjunction with the Justice and Safety Center at Eastern Kentucky University, more than half the 153 small and rural police and sheriff agencies polled, located in all 50 states, have 10 or fewer officers. Despite their size, these smaller agencies face the same types of responses as larger agencies. The agencies surveyed identified ballistic shield purchases as one of many purchases that will improve the safety and survivability of officers. The fact is many administrators struggle to prioritize the purchases of a department whose budget may be two decimal points away from urban departments.

     Newberry County, South Carolina, with an estimated 2005 population of 37,250 covering 635 square miles of primarily rural terrain, provides a unique patrol opportunity. Deployment areas for deputies are divided into zones. Depending on the call and location, the next closest deputy can be 5 to 10 minutes away.

     These deputies have two sources of ballistic shields. The heavier shields are used during deliberate CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) deployments and kept with the CERT equipment. Two officers are authorized and issued lightweight portable shields. Unfortunately, they are not available to every officer or every shift.

     Newberry County has its own CERT team. Although South Carolina State Police has a state law enforcement division capable of deploying a heavy SWAT team, a deliberate deployment in Newberry County is a 40-mile drive, taking at least an hour to respond. "Some things just won't wait an hour," comments Newberry County Sheriff James Lee Foster. During a recent incident of a barricaded subject, the Newberry CERT team successfully formed and deployed in a timely fashion, without using the state's resources.

     The city of Ripon, California, population 14,000, is a small community surrounded by municipalities many times its size. The Ripon Police Department generally keeps a ballistic shield in the supervisor's vehicle — a lighter weight model capable of protecting against handgun rounds.

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