During the 1960s, this country witnessed a dramatic rise in law enforcement officer fatalities. From 1966 to 1971, the number of officers killed each year in the line of duty more than doubled, from 57 to 129. Concerned by this rapid increase in officer fatalities and recognizing that a majority of the homicides were inflicted with handguns, NIJ initiated a research program to investigate the development of lightweight body armor that police officers could wear on duty.
The investigation readily identified several new materials that could be woven into a lightweight fabric with excellent ballistic-resistant properties. Following initial laboratory research, the agency concluded that the objective of producing body armor suitable for full-time police use was achievable. In a parallel effort, the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) Law Enforcement Standards Office (OLES) developed a performance standard that defined ballistic-resistant requirements for police body armor. The National Bureau of Standards was a part of the NIJ Technology Assessment Program, which today is the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC).
Of all the equipment developed and evaluated in the 1970s by NIJ, one of the most significant was soft body armor. To date, soft body armor has been credited with saving the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers nationally. The NIJ standard for body armor has gained worldwide acceptance as the benchmark of any given body armor model.
NIJ continues to develop standards and test methods for law enforcement and corrections equipment, including body armor, and operates the NIJ Voluntary Compliance Testing Program (CTP). NIJ’s testing program exists to ensure that law enforcement and corrections officers have the best information available about the performance and safety of equipment tested by the CTP, and participation by applicants in this program is voluntary.
Two organizations comprise the CTP: NIJ and JTIC. NIJ sponsors the CTP and has overall responsibility for the program. JTIC staff assigned to the CTP administer the program.
Armor models are submitted to JTIC for review and acceptance based on the criteria of the current NIJ Standard for Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor and the CTP Application Package. On initial acceptance into the CTP, a manufacturer submits samples for testing to one of the independent laboratories that have been approved by NIJ based on their technical competence and qualifications. After completion of the testing process, JTIC maintains tested samples in a secure facility for future comparison and analysis in response to requests for assistance from law enforcement agencies in the field. Models that have been tested and found to comply with NIJ requirements are listed on JUSTNET. After successfully meeting all CTP requirements, an armor will receive an NIJ Notice of Compliance. This notice is sent directly to the armor manufacturer and the model is added to the posted Compliant Products List. To date, more than 100 manufacturers have participated in NIJ’s voluntary compliance testing program.
In July 2008, NIJ introduced NIJ Standard-0101.06 Ballistic-Resistance of Body Armor. These requirements supersede NIJ Standard-0101.04 and the 2005 Interim Requirements. The development of the new standard was a multi-year effort that involved NIJ, armor manufacturers, material suppliers, test laboratories and the law enforcement community. The primary intents of the revision were to improve performance, provide adequate protection for threats that are likely to be faced over the next decade and provide assurance that armor will provide protection through its declared service life.