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A Guide to Ballistic Protection for Bike Police
Protecting the brave men and women who protect our communities is no easy task, and it is important to provide them with as much support as possible. Law Enforcement Officers who use bikes have specific needs when it comes to their protective clothing. However, it is just as important that they are kept protected. There is already plenty of advice available to Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), and even guides suggesting exactly what Officers on bikes need to consider when looking for their own protection. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what all of this means.
There is a lot of information available on body armor, explaining how it is available in different protection levels and in different styles. However, understanding the nuances of body armor allows Officers to make better choices, and ensure they are protected fully. For example, it is easy to realize that anything above Level IIIa is likely unnecessary for most Officers, but what exactly can each of the levels protect against?
Below are some explanations of how ballistic testing is undergone and specific explanations of the strengths and velocities of ammunition body armor can protect against. This will help Officers understand exactly what they need to keep themselves safe.
These ballistic levels outline the size and strength of the ammunition your armor can stop. As all Officers will be aware, this can make all the difference, but that there is also a wide variety in weapon strengths and ammunitions. Understanding exactly what the testing standards for each level are can go a long way in choosing a vest and ensuring it offers the right levels of protection. For example, a Level IIa vest is tested against 9mm Full Metal Jacketed Round Nose (FMJ RN) bullets with a specified mass of 8.0 g (124 gr) and a velocity of 373 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1225 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and with .40 S&W Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets with a specified mass of 11.7 g (180 gr) and a velocity of 352 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1155 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). This means that a Level IIa vest will protect against ‘low-level’ handgun ammunition, but of course this can cover a wide range of bullets.
For stronger protection against ‘normal’ handguns A Level II vest may be necessary. Vests at this level are tested with 9 mm FMJ RN bullets with a specified mass of 8.0 g (124 gr) and a velocity of 398 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1305 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and with .357 Magnum Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) bullets with a specified mass of 10.2 g (158 gr) and a velocity of 436 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s).
The levels outlined above can be considered the ‘lower levels’ of protection, and can stop the rounds most commonly found in handguns. However, several of these rounds can be fired at higher velocities by more powerful weapons, and so a higher Level vest may be necessary. Furthermore, higher caliber ammunition- albeit still fired from handguns- will need a higher Level.
A Level IIIa vest is capable of stopping the vast majority of handgun ammunition, and is the highest level of vest available that uses layers of soft para-aramid fabrics like Kevlar. A Level IIIa vest is tested with .357 SIG FMJ Flat Nose (FN) bullets with a specified mass of 8.1 g (125 gr) and a velocity of 448 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1470 ft/s ± 30 ft/s) and with .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets with a specified mass of 15.6 g (240 gr) and a velocity of 436 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s).
All of the above levels are available in ‘soft armors’, i.e. those using fabrics like Kevlar or Dyneema. These levels are usually the only ones necessary for most Officers. The testing methods outlined above also take into account different types of ammunition; it is not just calibers but round noses, flat noses, and hollow points for example. This means that armors are tested not only against the strength and speed of a bullet, but the different impacts they produce depending on their type.
Protection at higher levels adopts similar testing methods, but can only be achieved with hard materials like Ceramics or Polyethylene. For example, a Level III vest is tested in a conditioned state with 7.62 mm FMJ, steel jacketed bullets (U.S. Military designation M80) with a specified mass of 9.6 g (147 gr) and a velocity of 847 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2780 ft/s ± 30 ft/s). However, if the vest claims to provide this protection in conjunction with soft materials, then the plate must be tested with these materials. This is to ensure that ‘in conjunction’ armor does not suffer from any deformities that could still cause damage to the wearer. It is important to note that rigid plates that offer Level III or IV protection can only do so when worn in conjunction with soft armor.
Understanding the levels of protection available helps Officers choose the most appropriate armor available. However, the more detail available to Officers concerning the size, strength, and speed of ammunition used in testing, the better equipped they will be to equip themselves with armor. Armor should never be considered a substitute for caution and proper training. Nevertheless, when used in conjunction with these qualities, it can help save the lives of these brave men and women.