I am sharing this after having just gone through the process of selecting and purchasing 360+ plate carriers, 700+ plates, and 360+ ballistic helmets for use by uniformed patrol officers. Nothing written here is intended to supplant or contradict advice provided by the SME's in this forum. Some of the information in this post is available elsewhere in the Lightfighter forums. Nothing in this post is intended to address the needs of SWAT teams or other special units in American law enforcement. This is primarily intended for patrol officers trying to make a personal purchase or patrol supervisors tasked with selecting and purchasing the "best" product possible for their officers while working with a limited budget. Some of this information may also help answer questions & criticisms from administrators, purchasers, policymakers, and citizen watchdogs.
I do not claim to have all the answers. I'm just trying to help the overworked street cops trying to re-invent the wheel as they paddle homemade rafts through an ocean of bad infomercials. I freely admit that some of the information in this piece is influenced by the culture and requirements of my agency (which may be radically different than yours). Let's begin...
There is no nice way to say this but we all need to beware of “snake oil salesmen” looking to make a buck from tragedy. Heretofore unknown vendors of rifle plates and active shooter “packages” are coming out of the woodwork since the Dallas incident. Most of their textile products (i.e. carriers) are poorly constructed and made in China. Such carriers may be satisfactory for Airsoft games but they are wholly inadequate for duty use. Some of their plates are lightweight but ineffective against ammunition commonly available at gun shows and large retail outlets. In some instances, their plates are effective but far too heavy for practical use by the average uniformed patrol officer (especially with two plates - 1 front and 1 rear). The body armor industry is beset by merchants altogether devoid of the least qualification to the field of terminal ballistics. Internet startups are peddling rifle plates from assemblers holding no papers of authenticity from any institution, recognized or improvised.
Selecting the "right" plates is super-confusing unless you've been working with this stuff on a regular basis over the last few years. It seems there's a "catch" or a "yeah, but..." to every option. For example, the “old fashioned” ceramic plates were and are effective armor but they can be somewhat fragile. They are supposed to be X-Ray inspected annually to check for cracks compromising their ballistic protection. Steel plates can work well but they are heavy and awkward even if they are thin. Most importantly, they often do not stop some of the 5.56 rounds which can be purchased by the case at Cabela’s, Academy Sports, etc. Polyethylene plates are light and comfortable but they are often very expensive. Also, like some steel plates, several variations of commonly available 5.56 rounds will defeat them. What to do? Who do I believe? Which product do we truly need?
START WITH THIS: Realistic protection from rifle ammo must assume that suspects will walk into a big box store and unknowingly purchase a case of ammo which is capable of defeating many rifle plates. Your future adversary need not be well-informed or intelligent to select this product. He only needs to pick it off the shelf at random. This ammo is not “armor piercing” but it will punch right through many of the plates currently being sold with flashy marketing or fear. The ammo in question primarily includes the following types of 5.56mm X 45mm (Mods: These links go to retail outlets only to serve as an example of how widely available this ammo truly is - please de-link if needed):
Let's get serious about learning important stuff now that I've got your attention with my own fear-mongering. The attachments to this post are intended to provide you with the “minimum must know” material for dealing with salesmen, vendors, and manufacturers. Before you read any further, you should go to the bottom of this post and carefully read the four attached files:
- “Rifle Plates" and Plate Carriers for Patrol Officers: A Few Things to Think About by Doug Deaton (Me)
- Good Rifle Plate Options for LEOs by Dr. Gary K. Roberts (with a supplement at the end by Lightfighter member Longeye)
- Excerpts Specific to Rifle Plates (Hard Armor) from “Selection & Application Guide 0101.06 to Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor” collected from the original document by me.
- Classifications & Definitions from NIJ 06 Standard separated and collected by me.
Now that you're becoming better informed about standards and ratings, here are the "parent documents" you will want to save somewhere and refer to often:
If you are buying on behalf of others, I recommend you take the time to carefully read these sections from the “Selection and Application Guide” before you get too far along in your process:
Use this NIJ-maintained site to confirm if a particular item or model of armor has actually gone through the NIJ’s compliance testing program:
Additional resources that may be helpful for verifying information provided to you by vendors and/or manufacturers:
More to come in the next post...