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Lightweight Protection for Law Enforcement Officers

An innovative material makes it possible to produce military-grade body armor that is light and comfortable for men and women

A police officer is getting ready to respond to a reported disturbance. There is no indication that any of the involved parties are armed. She pauses, wondering if she should spend a few extra minutes putting on a protective vest. The benefits are obvious, but there are also drawbacks. The vest was designed for men, so it does not fit properly. The weight slows her down. The discomfort makes it harder to move. It is not an easy decision.

Female officers currently make up 13 percent of the U.S. police force, according to the Department of Justice. In a survey they conducted last year, more than 20 percent of local police departments do not require officers to wear armor vests at all times, or only require them to wear vests in some circumstances. Undesirable weight and comfort (also known as flexibility) are the most common reasons cited for officers not to wear vests. Since a police officer can carry more than 20 pounds of armor, equipment and gear while on patrol, it is not surprising that they might opt to wear little more than they need to.

Spectra Shield ® technology is helping solve this problem. Spectra Shield is a composite fabric made up of Spectra fiber, which was invented by Honeywell in the late 1980s. Pound for pound, the fiber is 15 times stronger than steel, yet light enough to float. The patented Shield technology molds the fiber to form Spectra Shield fabric. The fabric is bullet-resistant, cut-resistant and moisture-resistant.

Companies like Safariland are using Spectra Shield to create lightweight, ballistic-resistant, law enforcement vests that are comfortable for a variety of body shapes and up to 10 percent lighter than other types of protective vests.

Most protective vests are designed for male or neutral—in other words, flat—body shapes. Contoured vests are either more difficult or expensive to manufacture, or there is not enough demand for them. Female wearers sometimes compensate by adding steel plates or other types of protective padding, but this padding adds extra weight and bulk, not to mention discomfort.

Vests made with Spectra Shield help minimize these discomforts because they reflect a broader trend in both the military and law enforcement towards lighter, more flexible, ballistic protection. For example, a recent U.S. Military Human Factors Evaluation found that soldiers overwhelmingly preferred gear made with Spectra Shield over other types of materials because they demonstrated improved mobility and flexibility, and reduced weight. The Army's next-generation Soldier Protection System aims to reduce body armor weight by 10 percent, and Spectra Shield is already being used to produce key products that meet that weight reduction goal.

With manufacturing partners like Safariland, the same level of military-grade comfort and protection is available to law enforcement officers, regardless of gender.



Josh Byerly
Performance Materials and Technologies