Body Armor for Women in Law Enforcement

impressed by how women in law enforcement are able to handle many of the difficulties caused by wearing body armor that is mainly designed for men,” said NUSTL chemist Karin Decker. “They are often uncomfortable and not fully protected while on the job. Many of the women purchase their own better-fitting and more functional armor, which may or may not meet specifications for ballistic protection.” 

For Women in Law Enforcement, There’s Not Always a Universal Body Armor Solution

Existing body armor that female officers wear in the field tends to either be gender-neutral, meaning it can be worn by any officer, or it has a three-dimensional structure (using folds, darts, or seams to create cup shapes) intended to curve and fit around the bust line. Focus group participants noted that in their experience, these designs do not conform well to their body contours.

“It’s extremely important that a ballistic-resistant vest be the right fit for my body type. We come in various shapes and the one-size-fits-all is not safe for women,” said focus group participant Angela Alonzo, Special Agent (retired), DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations. “At the end of the day, I want to go home to my family.” 

For NUSTL, providing an opportunity for female responders to assess several currently-available body armor options will ultimately allow response agencies to purchase the right PPE for their officers. The focus group was held to learn from the users’ practical experiences what features are important to include in the assessment.  

“The focus group taught us that many first responder fields and disciplines are not prepared to offer women adequate protective equipment,” said NUSTL engineer Brenda Velasco-Lopez. “I believe that women in science can find a solution not only for ballistic-resistant body armor for law enforcement, but also for other areas of response that may lack adequate PPE for women. It is important that we do everything we can for those who risk their lives to protect our communities every day.” 

Focus group participants identified 21 different evaluation criteria and determined that first and foremost, usability and capability—not affordability—are the most important factors to consider in assessing the garments, though cost, ease of deploying, and ease of maintenance will be taken into account. Regarding design, assessment criteria will include belt- and vest-compatibility, comfort, cup size, fit measurement process, female design fit, non-prohibitive movement, and closure direction.

“Being able to work with law enforcement officers in this environment provides