Wearing body armor could save the lives of law enforcement officers, yet most opt not to wear it, according to new research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH).

The study found that law enforcement officers who wear body armor when shot by a firearm in the torso were 77 percent less likely to die from their injuries than those who did not wear body armor. 

Only 12 percent do it

Despite that, study authors WeiWei Liu and Bruce Taylor note that 12 percent of officers in the U.S. choose to not wear body armor -- even when their agencies have a mandatory policy requiring it.

Using data from the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) database, the authors examined the association between officers' individual characteristics and the likelihood of wearing body armor and the conditional association between wearing body armor and the likelihood of dying from a shooting to the torso.

Who doesn't wear it

In general, officers who are older or overweight, or who work in a region with more gun attacks against police such as the southern United States, are least likely to survive gunshot wounds. Those officers are also the least likely to wear body armor, the researchers point out.

Liu and Taylor noted "Police agencies need to target older, overweight officers, and those assigned to detective and undercover assignments when enforcing armor related policies…

"The investigation of factors that influence police officers' chance of surviving a gun shooting will have important implications for policies related to sending backup officers to police shootings, emergency response, and other critical areas."

Why a study?

This study is intended to help law enforcement agencies address weaknesses in current policies and encourage officers to wear body armor.

Law enforcement agencies can use these findings to develop new programs and awareness campaigns to increase the use of body armor among officers. Agencies can also pay closer attention to officers in higher-risk groups when performing inspections for compliance with policies on wearing body armor.

For more information, read the full study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

About JOEH 

JOEH is published jointly by the American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®).  JOEH enhances the knowledge and practice of occupational and environmental hygiene and safety. It provides a written medium for the communication of ideas, methods, processes, and research in the areas of occupational, industrial, and environmental hygiene; exposure assessment; engineering controls; occupational and environmental epidemiology, medicine, and toxicology; ergonomics; and other related disciplines.