Firearms are one of the leading causes for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The purpose or question to this research is to see if the chief administrator of a law enforcement agency should make the use of or the wearing of body armor mandatory or leave that decision to the discretion of the individual officer. While armor vests can only save lives when they are worn, there is also a limit on how long they can be worn and still be effective. This research will depict whether or not the entities liability outweighs the officer’s ability to effectively and efficiently perform their duty in a safe manner.  It is this author’s hypothesis that the decision of making the use and wearing of body armor mandatory should be left solely to the chief administrator and not the officer.  Additionally, whatever the chief administrator’s decision for making the use of body armor mandatory or not, it should be made clear by implementing the decision in a well written policy and procedure.  The measurement instrument that will be used in this research is interviewing different law enforcement agencies.  The interviews conducted in this study will be with administrators from twenty law enforcement agencies in the  area of various sizes.  These interviews will be conducted in person and over the telephone. The interview will consist of five questions related to the chief administrator’s policy or the lack thereof on body armor.  If the respondent advises that they do not make the use mandatory, then they will be asked why not.  If the respondent replies that they  did have a policy, they were asked if they had any personnel problems by implementing the policy.  The personal experience in dealing with officers on this topic will also inform this research. The information obtained in the interviews will be examined to determine how many agencies mandate the use or wear of body armor and if not the reasoning for why not.  For the agencies that do mandate the use and wear of body armor, this information will also depict if those agencies have any type of cool down policy.  This information will also advise of any problems that they might have had by mandating such a policy.  In determining whether the use of body armor should be mandatory or not, one should first look at policy making.  In the October 2000 issue of the Law Enforcement Bulletin an article entitled ” Put It in Writing, The Police Policy Manual” by Michael Carpenter, he advises that a written policy demonstrates that the department has shown due regard in directing the actions of its employees.  A written policy also serves as a powerful communication tool.  The author also states that employees tend to follow approved and recognized procedures.  As in federal, state and local laws, not everybody likes or agrees with the laws but they tend to obey them.  People know that if they get caught breaking the law there is a great possibility that they may face consequences for their actions.  Not every officer is going to like every policy set forth but they tend to follow them. Communication is pertinent in any type of relationship.  The communication between officers and their commanders can be considered even more relevant due to nature of their job.  A written policy and procedure lets everyone in the organization know what is expected and how the policy should be followed through.  In the Police Chiefs Desk Reference, Chief Larry M. Hesser (retired) emphasizes that many “People Problems” are magnified because of the lack of effective communication skills.  Problem solving, decision-making and quality improvement efforts are seriously hampered, if not impossible, if poor or ineffective communication skills are prevalent.  Therefore, if the chief administrator communicates to the officers through policy and procedure that they must wear their body armor, ideally, the officers will tend to do so. There are many factors to consider in deciding whether or not to make the wear and use of body armor a policy.  One factor to consider is whether or not the governmental entity’s liability of not making wearing ballistic vest outweighs an officer’s ability to efficiently, effectively and safely perform their duties if given the choice not to wear their ballistic vest?  Statistics provided by the FBI Uniform Crime Report from 2004 showed that there were a great number of officers slain with firearms were wearing body armor at the time of their deaths, some of which died from wounds to the front upper torso.  This is the same area that is covered by ballistic body armor.  The same study showed that some of the officers were killed wearing body armor and died from torso wounds caused by the bullets entering their bodies despite wearing body armor and none of them due to body armor failure.  The fact is wearing body armor can savelives as it is intended to do, but the numbers show that even wearing a ballistic vest does not mean that it is “bullet proof.” Given these facts, chief administrators must look at the long term effects that might arise if they make it policy.  Will this decision affect the attitudes and performance of the officers?   In interviewing agencies that made it mandatory for their officers to wear their body armor, none of those agencies advised of serious problems in attitudes or performance.  The only problem that stemmed from the mandate was that officers griped about the heat that the vest stored against the body.  Several of the agencies that made it mandatory also had some type of “cool down” policy.  A “cool down” policy is one that the officers can use their own discretion in taking their vest off long enough in a practical situation to cool down.  One of those situations would be working a traffic control detail in the Texas August heat.  It is this author’s opinion that the chances of becoming a heat casualty would then outweigh the chances of being shot.  Before a decision is made to make the wearing of body armor should be mandatory the chief administrator must consider the long term effects that such a decision will have on the officers.   Will this decision affect the officer’s’ moral? Will the decision affect the officer’s’ efficiency?  In interviews conducted by this author with chiefs of police, sheriffs and other command officers, there is little to no ill effects of making such a strict policy of mandating the wear and use of body armor.  In interviews with some officers they said that they would wear their vest whether or not it was mandated.  A couple of chief’s stated that a few of their larger officers complained of discomfort, another popular complaint from officers is that the vests are uncomfortable when spending endless hours in a patrol car.  A motto in the ads for Size Right Certified Solutions they claim that “When it fits, it’s comfortable. When it’s comfortable, you wear it. The purpose of this research is to address the question: Does the governmental entity’s (employers) liability of not making wearing ballistic vest outweigh an officer’s’ ability to effectively, efficiently and safely perform their duties if they have a choice to not wear a ballistic vest?  This author reviewed literature that addressed the topics of policy making and the importance of making and implementing a well written policy, the causes of officer low moral, facts on body armor and how officers should wear their body armor.  Telephonic interviews were conducted and revealed that in  it was almost a split difference for the agencies that that mandated the use and wear of body armor and those who did not.  The interviews also addressed any problems the agencies might have been face with if any at all. Also a study of the 2004 FBI report of the officers killed in the line of duty while wearing their vest revealed that the number was higher than what some might have expected. Based on the information gathered it is this authors hypothesis that the decision of making the use and wearing of body armor mandatory or not should be left solely to the chief administrator and not the officer, and whatever their decision, it should be made clear by implementing the decision in a well written policy and procedure.  This is not to say that officers cannot make good sound decisions but rather that a good writtenn policy, mandated or not, lays a good solid foundation for the department to follow.  This author found no significant evidence to dictate one way or another if a chief administrator should make the use and wear of body armor mandatory.  It is the opinion of this author that the chief administrator should consider the risk, perception of the public, direction of the local government, make a decision and then put it in written policy. There were many limitations to conducting research because there were no one answers that are accepted policy over the other.  This author found no law enforcement organizations for chief administrators that prompted this decision one way or another. The fact of the matter is that body armor can save human life if given the right conditions.  In this author’s experience in dealing with officers, most want to wear their body armor and do wear it unconditionally. This research provides chief administrators of law enforcement agencies of every size and demographic with facts that benefit their agency in making the decision for themselves if they should make the use and the wearing of body armor mandatory or if they should leave it to the discretion of the individual officer.  This research can also provide chief administrators with good solid reasons for making their decision one that is in a written policy for the best interest of their jurisdiction and their officers.


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