The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) estimates that ballistic-resistant soft body armor has saved more than 3,000 lives in the past 30 years alone. But, are your officers taking the proper steps to maintain this valuable piece of personal protective equipment?
A 2012 survey report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) revealed that officers’ methods for care and maintenance of their body armor varied pretty widely—and not all methods were recommended by the manufacturer. For example, 57% of officers reported storing their armor on a clothes hanger, when most manufacturers recommended laying it flat.
More alarming, though, is that 27% of officers surveyed say they did not receive training on the care and maintenance of their body armor. Given that proper care and maintenance can extend the life of body armor and maximize its warranty period, there’s a clear opportunity for agencies to assist officers with extending the life of their body armor by providing training and periodic refreshers on maintenance and care.
Ideally, officers should follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for care, storage and life length for body armor. In general, the following guidelines apply to most commercially produced body armor:
Body Armor Care – General Guidelines
- Inserts should be washed by hand with cold water, mild soap and a soft cloth. Never submerge your vest in water, and never use bleach or starch. Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of soap.
- Depending on the manufacturer, the carrier, or shell that holds panel inserts, may be machine washable and could be dry cleaned if the manufacturer does not prohibit it.
- Never dry or otherwise leave your vest outdoors—even in the shade—because UV rays could degrade the fabric.
- Do not leave your vest in a car or truck. Keep it in a locker at work or at home.
- Ideally, vests should be stored flat as opposed to being hung on a hanger.
- Inspect vests regularly for signs of wear, including creases, tears, burns and odors.
- Know the declared ballistic warranty period for your body armor, and record start date for use.
- Be sure to check out this NIJ video for more information.
Time to Replace?
Your law enforcement agency should be prepared to replace body armor in the following cases:
- Body armor that has been punctured or otherwise subjected to trauma, or shows significant signs of wear and tear to the panels, inserts, Velcro or other closing.
- An officer loses a significant amount of weight. The panels are designed to fit snugly and become stressed if that changes.
- Check out PoliceArmor.org for comprehensive advice about how to select, purchase, wear and care for body armor.
- Download the NIJ’s Body Armor User Guide.
- Read the PERF Report on Body Armor Use, Care, and Performance in Real World Conditions: Findings from a National Survey.
Trident Public Risk Solutions gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video: Wear Your Armor! The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
About the Author
Bob Marinelli, ARM, CPSI, RSSP is risk control manager for San Antonio, Texas-based Trident Public Risk Solutions, working with municipalities and schools throughout the United States.