Concerned by a rapid increase in police officer fatalities and recognizing most homicides were inflicted with handguns, the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, predecessor of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), initiated a research program in the early 1970's to investigate the development of a lightweight body armor that on-duty police officers could wear full-time.
The National Bureau of Standards was part of the NIJ Technology Assessment Program, which today is known as the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC). Of all equipment developed and evaluated in the 1970's by the NIJ, one of the most significant achievements was the development of body armor employing DuPont's Kevlar ballistic fabric. Between 1971 and 1976, more than $3 million of NIJ funds were devoted to the development of body armor. The development of body armor by the NIJ was a four-phase effort that took place over several years. The first phase involved testing Kevlar fabric to determine whether it could stop a lead bullet. Subsequent phases involved determining the number of layers of material necessary to prevent penetration of bullets of varying speeds and calibers and developing a prototype vest that would protect police officers, extensive medical testing to determine the performance level of body armor that would be necessary to save the lives of police officers, and monitoring the wearability and effectiveness of body armor. In 1975, an extensive field test of the new Kevlar body armor was conducted with 15 urban police departments. Tests showed that the body armor could be worn without restricting the ability of police officers to do their jobs and that the vests worked. In recent years, the NLECTC has seen a dramatic increase in the number of submissions of new body armor models from manufacturers around the world, and the NIJ standard for police body armor has gained worldwide acceptance. More than 50 manufacturers produce body armor and participate in the NIJ's voluntary compliance testing program. 1 photograph