By Scott Sulzbach
It doesn’t take more than a passing glance at the headlines to understand that first responders the world over face new and evolving threats. From weaponizing vehicles to the proliferation of military-grade arms, police from Plattsburgh to Paris are scrambling to prepare and protect themselves in a dangerous new world.
While some threats are more difficult to predict and protect against, others are well-known. Threats posed by firearms, for example, can be quantified and police forces outfitted in a way that brings protection on par with an officer’s most common threats.
It was in this spirit that the State Police allocated millions of dollars from the state’s emergency grant funding to outfit the entire force with new body armor. Improper oversight not only wasted taxpayer money, it left the entire State Police – the second-largest police force in the state – unnecessarily vulnerable.
There are two rounds of high-powered ammunition most frequently confiscated by State Police: one fired from the AK-47, the other from the AR-15. The armor plates purchased by State Police should stop both.
Recognizing their officers faced increasing threats from high-powered rifles firing one of these two common rounds, State Police moved quickly to purchase new armor plates. Unfortunately, this is where it all went sideways.
Armor plates are scored against standards set by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. And while certification requirements are standard, the acquisition process is anything but. In fact, there is no standard process for acquiring armor plates. Often, someone with little or no experience leads the acquisition process. Far too often this leads to suboptimal purchasing decisions; in the case of the State Police, it could prove deadly.
The emergency grant required Level III certified body armor plates. Where Level III armor plates fall on the NIJ’s scale matters less than what they stop. In this case, Level III armor plates only stop the rounds commonly fired by an AK-47. They do not, however, stop the more common threat to State Police of the rounds fired from the AR-15.
According to the National Rifle Association, there are over 30 million AR-15s in the U.S. alone. The round it fires is also inexpensive and readily available at your local hunting supply store. It’s no wonder why the round is one of the most commonly confiscated in the state.
Despite the prevalence of that ammunition, the armor purchased by the State Police will not protect a single officer from a single bullet fired from an AR-15. State Police officers remain vulnerable to the military-grade weapon most common in their state.
It is unacceptable that any police officer in New York or elsewhere leaves for work without being adequately protected from threats that might prevent him or her from returning home at the end of the day. We owe it to the men and women in blue who risk their lives daily to make our state safe.
Scott Sulzbach is the director of global sales and marketing at Buffalo Armory, an armor manufacturer based in Buffalo.