I remember the first body armor developed by Rich Davis of Second Chance Body Armor Company. It was the early 1970s and armor consisted of a double set of ballistic nylon pads. Kevlar was yet to come on the scene. I still have a set of that nylon armor we shot with a .38 revolver. The 158-grain lead bullet bounced off, and we were convinced.
In 1980, it was my good fortune to travel to Second Chance in Central Lake Michigan, where I would spend the next 19 summers attending the Second Chance Combat Shoot. Richard and I became great friends and he regularly invited me and other officers to the factory and gave us an education about the manufacture and capabilities of soft and hard plate body armor.
I also met many of the officers who had been shot and survived because they wore their armor. These meetings led to a movie on body armor saves, and I was asked to interview officers and deputies from around the nation. What an incredible experience!
I discovered that officers saved by their armor all had two vital things in common. First, they made the choice to wear their body armor every day, every shift. Second, every officer I spoke with said that at no time did they expect to get shot when their incident occurred. There was no warning, just gunfire directed at them. Note: This is well over two dozen officers all saying the same thing. This pretty much shoots a big hole in the belief held by some that they can carry their vest with them and put it on when it’s needed.
Their calls ran the gamut: traffic stops, domestics, search warrants, suspicious person, man with a gun, etc. Some calls were dangerous on their face and some weren’t. Many of the officers returned fire successfully after being shot. Some were shot more than once and not all rounds hit their armor, but they remained committed to their survival and success, and they won.
The Case of Marcus Young
No better example of this is Sgt. Marcus Young (Ret.), of the Ukiah, Calif., Police Department. Sgt. Young is one of my heroes and a personal friend. We met at ILEETA some years ago, and I learned of his amazing street battle against a hardcore criminal bent on murdering him.
Body armor coupled with a fierce warrior spirit and a well-trained mind and body allowed a critically wounded Sgt. Young to fight on, overcome and ultimately kill his attacker. Today Sgt. Young works with a FBI/DOJ program presenting information on officers killed in the line of duty (LEOKA). This publication details the murders and assaults of officers nationwide and is published every year. Sgt. Young presents his story and his findings at locations around the country. It’s highly regarded training and offered at no cost.
For more on Sgt. Young’s important work and life experience, click here.
It Won’t Happen Here
There are those who say that “nothing happens here.” Translation: You have not been attacked or in a serious auto crash—yet. Numerous officers have been saved in auto crashes by their armor, so it’s not just a gun or edged weapon threat to be concerned about. We must not allow complacency to be our downfall.
Let’s look at the upside of wearing your body armor:
1. Body armor can and will save your life.
2. It will allow you to fight on when you have been shot in a protected area of your body.
3. It’s a passive defense that requires nothing more to work than wearing it.
4. It’s reasonably priced, especially with the Federal 50% reimbursement program and remains serviceable for years.
I won’t pretend there aren’t downsides. In hot weather, body armor can be uncomfortable. Sweat streams down your body and your T-shirt, pants and shorts are soggy. Yes; but having holes shot in your body is worse.
Ultimately, the issue is whether or not the armor is worn. Do we allow the officer to make that decision or do we mandate it? As the lead officer in my agency, I’ve made the wearing of body armor mandatory for my street officers. When I go out, I wear mine. You can’t have two standards, one for bosses and one for officers. “Lead by example” must be the motto of command officers. For those of you who are field training officers and work for an agency that doesn’t have a mandatory wear policy, you must remember that your attitude about body armor will affect every trainee. Set the right example by wearing your armor and make sure every trainee understands that armor should always be worn.
We can’t think that we’ll wear it when we need it. Letting the armor sit in our car or locker is simply unacceptable. I remember an incident in which a deputy arrived at a domestic call without his armor on. A senior deputy told him to “go get it and put it on.” Minutes later the offender ambushed the now-armored deputy and shot him in the hip and over the spine. The vest saved his life.
Why do I know this? Because this incident occurred a few miles from my jurisdiction. Sadly, I also remember officers and deputies who have been killed with their vest sitting on the seat or in the trunk of their squad car.
We have a choice. Through planning, training, mindset and commitment we can perform our sworn duty under the most dangerous conditions. We can be protected at all times by our armor. In fact, we must. Let’s join together and make this commitment to armor up. Do it for yourself, for your fellow officers who might have to rescue you and for those who care about you.