Body armor for police evolves
October 31, 2006
If it hadn’t been for the bulletproof vest State Trooper Brian Koch was wearing the night he was shot, his story might be completely different.Police believe Steven Appl, 33, shot Koch twice in the chest and once in the forearm Oct. 24 during a routine traffic stop on County Road 346 on Tuesday. The bullets that hit Koch’s bulletproof vest left bruises, and the one shot that did damage shattered his forearm. He underwent surgery and was in the hospital for several days, but is doing well.Appl shot and killed himself at a police checkpoint the next night.According to CSP Capt. Rich Duran, all state troopers must wear bulletproof vests while on duty.”For all of the line personnel and supervisors, by law, it’s part of the uniform,” Duran said. “But there’s different types of vests based on levels. Some are thicker and some are heavier. It’s a life-saving piece of equipment for us, and it obviously saved Trooper Koch’s life.”
While the CSP, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and the All Hazards Response Team require their officers to wear the vests, it’s voluntary for some other police departments.”It’s not required by law, but most of our [officers] wear them,” said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson. “That is one of the differences we’ve noticed over the last 20 years. If we don’t have 100 percent of [officers] wearing them, it’s really, really close to it.”When Wilson said that 25 years ago, about 25 to 40 percent of the officers wore bulletproof vests. Now, nearly all of them do – especially those on routine patrol.”I’d be very surprised if we have three or four people in the valley that don’t religiously wear their vests,” Wilson said.Bulletproof vests used to be heavy and cumbersome, but now they have evolved to be lighter weight and easier to wear. The vests Kevlar are made of a strong weave of fiber that essentially traps a bullet and repels it, Wilson said. Several different grades of bulletproof vests ward off a variety of ammunition, from handguns to shotguns.”There are grades of thickness that are intended for the shape and size of the bullet to penetration versus the point of contact,” Wilson said. “There are all kinds of styles, depending on what you’re doing.”
A typical bulletproof patrol vest weighs about 7-8 pounds, with the most durable at 35 pounds. But as technology improves, the vests become lighter and more comfortable.”If you’re in something that is so ungodly uncomfortable, it’s hard,” Wilson said. “But technology has made these things so much more wearable and made it so officers will wear them.”Garfield County requires its officers to wear bulletproof vests as part of a deputy’s uniform, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.”Everybody is issued one,” Vallario said. “And obviously, it’s a smart thing to wear.”Vallario also said that the vests have developed and are easier to wear than they used to be. Different facets of law enforcement wear different types of vests. Street patrol officers may wear a lighter vest than the county All Hazards Response Team, which is a highly-trained elite unit that handles a variety of situations.”For cops on the street, it depends on the threat level,” Vallario said. “There are a series of levels that offer different levels of protection. But the intended use is for exactly what happened to Brian [Koch].”
The vest mainly protects the officers’ torso and crotch. “Nobody says you’re going to walk away unhurt, but it does protect the vital organs,” Vallario said.The Rifle Police Department doesn’t require its officers to wear bulletproof vests but encourages it, said Chief Daryl Meisner.”If they wish to wear them, we provide it,” he said. “They’re very effective, and nationwide they save a couple hundred officers a year.”The vests range in cost from $500 to $1,200. However, available grants will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of the equipment.”But [bulletproof vests] regularly contribute to saving lives of law enforcement officers,” Wilson said.