More agencies are mandating body armor and more officers are wearing it, but certain deficiencies in vest training may still be hampering the best possible ballistic protection, according to a new survey by the Police Executive Research Forum.
PERF polled a representative national sample of 1,000 sworn officers and found that more than 92% are now required to wear armor, either “at all times when on duty” (57%) or “at most times” (35.3%). Nearly 75% of the officers said they their agencies back the decree with written policy.
These figures show significant improvement over a PERF survey three years ago, which showed that only 59% of agencies required officers to wear armor “at least some of the time” on duty. Only 45% of departments at that time had written policies on armor wear.
Officers said they adhered to the requirement either all the time (87.9%) or “most” of the time (11.4%). Even though 73% said they had never been shot at or involved in other situations in which armor actually protected them from injury, the overwhelming majority regards it as “critical for safety,” the survey recorded.
More than two-thirds of the officers (68.7%) estimated that adherence to vest policy on their shift is 100%, while another 27.9% judged compliance at 76% to 99%.
Although noting that “officers did not believe that failing to wear body armor, even repeatedly, would result in particularly severe discipline,” PERF states: “[P]olicies are effective and should be maintained by agencies that have them, strengthened in agencies that currently have weak policies, and considered by agencies that lack them.”
A cautionary note: “[S]ignificant numbers of officers” do not understand or do not always adhere to vest care and maintenance recommendations, PERF discovered. For instance:
Nearly two-thirds “did not know that moisture can reduce the ballistic protection of body armor.”
Over 57% most commonly store their armor by hanging it on a regular clothes hanger, despite the fact that manufacturers advise laying it flat or placing it on specially designed hangers when not in use. (Improper hanging “can wear out the straps,…allowing the ballistic material to move around…, possibly leaving certain areas of the body at risk,” PERF explains.)
“These findings point to a need for further training and education of officers,” PERF says. Since more than half the officers keep their vests in their lockers when off duty, departments should ensure that lockers are designed to accommodated proper storage, the study advises.
Finally, “51% of officers stated that body armor is not available for immediate replacement, should theirs be damaged or lost,” PERF noted. It suggests that departments “maintain a limited inventory…in various sizes, rather than requiring officers to wait for long periods…without armor.”
Full details of the survey can be accessed without charge by CLICKING HERE.