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How Public Perception Of Body Armour Has Changed?

Written by: Colin Mackinnon

Having served 27 years in the Police service, I remember when body armour was first introduced to the UK Police and the uproar it caused with the public. Shouts of “Militia”, “Bovver boys”, “Armoured Thugs” and other inventive descriptions were banded about with the concern that the issuing of some essential and long overdue PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) would somehow change the Police into some kind of militaristic killing machines.

But do you know what, it did change the Police, in a positive way. It saved lives and helped protect those in the most difficult of situations against injury. It also changed the public perception of body armour being utilised in the UK in front facing roles. Within 3 months of body armour being issued to the Police, nobody cared that they were wearing it, and it became completely normal to see it as part of their uniform. Visual, effective, lifesaving.

Over the years since then body armour has been refined and can be made from a variety of materials and offer different degrees of protection, but the fundamental design remains consistent and can these days be seen worn by private sector security, a multitude of government agencies, and private industries across the UK.

ppss stab resistant body armour

Public perception of body armour

Part of my role as the Technical Director for PPSS Group is to attend meetings with Senior Managers, their clients, and teams across the UK. Despite the change in public perception of body armour, I am still surprised at the opinion of Senior staff who have delayed purchasing protective equipment or want to do whatever they can to hide the equipment because they “don’t want to scare our customers away” or “if we are seen to wear body armour we must have a knife problem”. Back in the dark ages when body armour was first being introduced I might have agreed with those comments but these days I can walk into a McDonalds restaurant and see a security guard wearing body armour without the slightest difference in the amount of people filling their faces with burgers and fries.

People will say “Yes, but McDonalds isn’t the same as a children’s hospital, a college, or a university, we want to encourage our customers to come to us, not scare them away”. Without naming specific clients who have faced me with that argument, where possible I have left them with one of our body armour and asked them to run a poll, show their customers the armour, and ask them what they thought of a security team wearing them. After a couple of days, I would return, and the consensus of the feedback was “Why wouldn’t they in this day and age?”

Here is where the problem lies. Certain (but not all in the majority) clients think business will suffer if overt body armour is seen to be worn, when in reality it is so commonplace these days that it is unlikely to cause an issue with that business. This opinion has led to some manufacturers producing frankly hilarious “bespoke” multi-colour cover designs with over-the-top “extras “in an attempt to disguise the body armour or tone down the design. This at most likely higher prices and delays in manufacture, due to them not being off the shelf colour designs when it comes to replacement. While I get why some clients would want a simple co-operate image, cover, or badging, why hide it? The public know what a body armour looks like. The fact is that regardless of if the security personnel are working in a burger joint,  a hotel, a hospital, a university or anywhere else for that matter, they deserve to be wearing the correct PPE to do their job.

covert body armour

Covert body armour

This leads me to covert body armour and its unnecessary use. Covert body armour by its very nature should be concealed and worn under clothing to disguise the fact the user is wearing it. It is for a very specific type of role, for example close protection, bodyguarding, surveillance, but not to hide it away because you may scare your customers away. Anyone who has worn covert body armour will tell you it is an uncomfortable experience. generally, it must be worn tighter to the body, causes excessive sweating, and due to it being worn under clothing, it cannot be quickly put on or taken off, because you must get undressed first.  Purchasers also forget that while covert body armour can be cheaper than overt to buy initially, they must then buy clothing that is 1 or 2 sizes larger than normal to wear over it to allow normal movement and to conceal the armour. This of course then adds to the cost. Overt armour is by and large more practical, easier to put on and off and cooler to wear.

Overloading a vest is another thing which I see too often. Some manufacturers are producing “bespoke” designs with extra pockets, extra clips, extra this, and extra that. Unfortunately, this is at the detriment of the wearer, because if they have all these extras, they tend to use them. Pockets full of unnecessary items and equipment worn on the chest and stomach area have a forward pulling effect which causes stress on the back and lower spine leading to health problems. For example, I have seen handcuff pouches on a security guard uniform (who didn’t have handcuffs!) using the pocket to carry a small flask of tea around with him. Visit any Police Treatment Centre and you will find a lot of officers with bad backs. That is why most police forces use utility belts which distribute heavier items around the hips in a single plane rather than pulling on the lower back. A simple design which allows the minimum weight of essential equipment is far better for your health.

Now returning to the general public and their perception of body armour. Simply put, body armour is the norm these days. It is here to stay, and we are likely to see more of it as the years roll forward. No nonsense colours, designs, and operationally effective features combined with essential certified protection from knives, spiked weapons, hypodermic needles, and blunt force injuries, is not only accepted but expected to be worn by any front line professional.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact our body armour team or connect with me via LinkedIn.

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