What You Need to Know About the NIJ Body Armor Standard

October 27, 2017

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) began setting standards for body armor in 1972. The NIJ is the only nationally accepted standard for body armor worn by law enforcement personnel. The NIJ ballistic resistance standard classifies body armor by levels of ballistic performance.

What does the NIJ test protocol require? It requires that for any performance level, the bullet does not perforate the vest. The NIJ runs a program that tests commercially available armor to determine if the body armor vest meets minimum performance standards.

Why is having a body armor standard important?

  • To have armor that will protect against the current threats to law enforcement.
  • To have reliable armor that law enforcement can count on in life or death situations.
  • To determine durability of armor and whether it will hold up to daily use.

When your department is going through the process of deciding what body armor to purchase, they need to determine the threats their officers will most often face, and that will help them decide which classification the body armor needs to have.

The most recent standard, 0101.06, was published in 2008. It “established minimum performance requirements and test methods for the ballistic resistance of personal body armor intended to protect against gunfire.

The standard established five classifications for vests. Classifications are listed as Roman numerals and classified as follows:

  • Type IIA (9mm; .40 S&W)
  • Type II (9mm; .357 Magnum)
  • Type IIIA (.357 SIG; .44 Magnum)
  • Type III (Rifles)
  • Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle)

This means that depending on the classification, under certain circumstances, a vest should be able to withstand a bullet from that particular weapon.

NIJ spells out the many testing methods and procedures done to determine a vest’s classification and protection level, and whether that vest meets the required standard and is therefore suitable to sell.

An update to the NIJ standard is being readied to roll out sometime in 2018. NIJ 0101.07 will provide improvements to the existing standard.

According to the Body Armor Manufacturers webinar, rationale for the changes includes:

  • “Maintaining or improving officer safety
  • Addressing needs of female officers
  • Changing operational requirements
  • Integration of best practices with outside standards development organizations
  • Lessons learned.”

One of the more interesting aspects of this new standard is in regard to testing body armor as it relates specifically to female officers. Manufacturers have now improved shaping techniques that result in more ergonomically shaped armor, particularly for a woman’s bust area.

What specific changes to the standard are coming? They include the following:

  • Roman numerals will no longer be used to classify threat levels. Instead, they will be replaced by a similar standard used in the United Kingdom where HG denotes soft armor and RF denotes hard armor.
  • The lowest threat level for soft armor is now considered obsolete and will no longer appear in the updated standard.
  • A new threat level which closes the gap between the third and fourth levels. This new threat level includes a mild steel core and high-performance ammunition, providing a better base level of protection.

In addition, changes to the standard will mostly be in terms of refinements and clarifications to the way tests are conducted by test labs and the Body Armor Compliance Testing Program. This includes the types of ammunition used in testing.

So, think about the type of body armor you currently wear. Know and understand the level of protection it provides you, and take some time to figure out if that is adequate protection for the area you work in. Perhaps the type of body armor purchased isn’t your choice. Engage your superiors in a conversation about the changes that are coming. Now is the time to evaluate if your body armor meets the department’s current needs, or if upgrades are necessary. Your safety is their top priority.


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