They stink, chafe, and make you look fat, but they also stop bullets, and for cops, that’s a good thing. Bullet-proof vests are made of a fabric called Kevlar, which is five times stronger than steel.
Vests don’t deflect bullets, but catch them; much like a net stretched across the goal posts catches a soccer ball. Although bullets don’t penetrate, they still deliver a mean punch. Depending on the caliber, the distance and angle of the bullet, it’s been compared to being hit with a line-drive baseball traveling at 130 mph. Bruising and broken ribs still occur, but the survival rate is still improving.
Fewer officers are killed due to this great invention, but just as many, if not more, are still being assaulted. In addition to wearing safety equipment, cops practice “officer safety tactics” that go unnoticed by the casual observer. The following tactics soon became second nature to police officers, thus increasing their chances of surviving on the street.
Police officers always keep their gun hand free. They can’t grab their gun if their hand is filled with a ticket book or flashlight.
When knocking on a door, cops stand to the side. Wooden doors don’t stop bullets.
Police officers, like soldiers, know the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment, such as the door mentioned above, hides them, but doesn’t protect them from bullets. A car or large tree trunk on the other hand hides them and stops bullets; this is called cover.
To protect their backs, cops, like gunslingers of the old west, keep their backs against the wall. Something the late Wild Bill Hickock forgot to do the night he was shot in the back while playing cards.
Officers stand sideways with their gun-side facing away from the suspect. Not only is it harder for a person to grab an officer’s gun, but the officer is less apt to be kicked in the groin.
Fear of death or injury invokes its own sense of humor. Some cops wear emblems or mottos embossed on our vests. One night I found myself laying on a gurney in the emergency room after a major police crash. When the nurse leaned over me and undid my shirt, she saw my red and yellow Superman emblem ironed onto the front of my vest. Without missing a beat she said, “Hit some Kryptonite, did ya?”
Front and rear sections of an officer’s vest. Desgned to be worn under the officer’s uniform. Vests are custom-fitted for each officer.
Front Kevlar panel with rectangular pouch for steel trauma plate. Front and rear panels are inserted into a protective, canvas-like covering. The cover (in the picture above, the covering is blue) is not made from Kevlar.
Vest worn on outside of officer’s clothing. Usually worn during search warrant service and other high-risk situations. Also worn by SWAT, undercover officers, and plainclothes detectives.
Reflective lettering on the rear of the vest easily identifies the wearer as a police officer. A smaller reflectice patch is sewn to the front of the vest, too.
About Sergeant John Howsden:
John Howsden is a retired police sergeant with over thirty years experience with the Fremont California Police Department. During those thirty years, he served as a detective, SWAT team member, post-trauma counselor, and verbal judo instructor.
Sergeant Howsden was once involved in a shootout with a murderer/robber. The killer escaped during the gun battle and went on to kill four other people before his capture and ending up on San Quentin’s death row. Sgt. Howsden attended the murderer’s execution as a state’s witness.
* Tomorrow we continue our lesson on fingerprinting with a tutorial on Cyanoacrylate fuming and the use of Ninhydrin.