Protecting the officers
Soft body armor to become more visible

by Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 04/98) - Some members of Yellowknife's RCMP detachment are beginning to wear soft body-armor vests over their uniforms.

The change should not be taken as a sign, however, that gun fights have become commonplace in the city.

The vests began appearing recently to replace the old ones, which were worn under dress shirts. The reason for the change is simple -- comfort.

Const. Glenn Henry, who addresses safety issues for G Division, said patrol officers are encouraged to wear soft body armor, but it's not mandatory.

Henry noted that the comfort factor may result in more officers wearing the vests, which are filled with the same bullet-stopping Kevlar material, but some may prefer to stick with their interior armor.

Henry, who has been sporting his new vest for the past few weeks, likened it to a hockey helmet.

"After a while, you feel naked if you're not wearing it," he said.

Another practical application is a water-based emergency in which an officer would want to remove his vest quickly. It could also offer a degree of protection if an officer were to be thrown around in a car crash.

The lightweight vests are designed to prevent penetration of a bullet a calibre equal to or smaller than the RCMP-issued 9-mm handgun. Henry explained that the odds are greatest that an officer will be hit by a bullet from his own gun should it be lost to an assailant.

Even though a bullet isn't likely to pierce the soft body armor, the officer will still suffer "trauma," or a jarring effect from the impact of the bullet.

There are still firearms of greater calibre available that could puncture the vests. Henry noted half-seriously that the police could counter by wearing bomb-blast suits, but comfort and manoeuvrability would go out the window.

"There's only so much you can do," he said.