Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Body armor doesn't provide complete protection

TAMPA — The body armor strapped to the chest of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts was strong enough to stop a variety of bullets.

But the one that killed him Wednesday night evaded the vest, slicing into his right shoulder at a downward angle and piercing his exposed arm pit.

The shot is a deadly reminder that not even state-of-the-art equipment provides complete protection.

In 1988, 25-year-old rookie Tampa police Officer Porfirio Soto Jr. died from a single shot that burrowed below his left arm pit. As with Roberts, this area was not protected by his vest.

"It is the nature of body armor, the way it is made," said Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Roland Corrales. "It does leave some openings."

Corrales evaluates body armor for the Sheriff's Office. The vest Roberts wore is made of flexible, synthetic fiber that, when woven together, mimics the imperviousness of steel even though it weighs much less. It's similar to the type of vests worn by deputies, Corrales said. Vests that cover the arm pits aren't popular because they are too confining, he said.

"They don't allow the body to lose heat, so they feel like your body is wrapped in a plastic baggy," Corrales said.

The manufacturer of the ABA Xtreme HP Level II vest worn by Roberts is Safariland, a company based in Ontario, Calif. A spokesman, Mark Berman, said until the company knows more about the shooting, it can't comment.

Body armor was introduced to law enforcement in the 1970s through a pilot program by the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. About 3,000 officers have been saved by vests since the mid '80s, said Debra Stoe, who manages the NIJ's standards and testing programs. She said the Kevlar vest that Roberts wore is on a list of vests the NIJ recommends.

A growing concern for the NIJ is officers being shot in vulnerable areas on the sides of the torso that aren't covered by the vest. Stoe said that a study under way is showing a high rate of these wounds from bullets that penetrate the shoulder first.

"What we thought was happening was that officers were getting shot under the arm," Stoe said. "It wasn't until now that we learned the bullets were going through the arms."

But covering that exposed area with the vest is not so easy.

"We want to make sure the officer wears the vest every single day," Stoe said, "which won't happen if it's really uncomfortable to wear."

Body armor doesn't provide complete protection 08/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 1:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas sees spike in infant deaths from unsafe sleeping, and advocates are concerned


    The reports from the Department of Children and Families are tragic: A Pinellas County mother falls asleep on a recliner during an early morning feeding and wakes to find one of her 3-month-old twins unresponsive. Another finds her 6-month-old daughter lying still, a blanket over her head. Another infant is found wedged …

    Advocates are looking to step up their public information efforts this year after reports show a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Pinellas County. []
  2. Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami


    On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

    White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.
  3. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter


    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  4. New poll shows tight St. Pete mayor's race


    A new poll shows a tight race between former mayor Rick Baker and Mayor Rick Kriseman, currently engaged in the most expensive mayoral race in St. Petersburg history. 

    Former Mayor Rick Baker answers a question during the mayoral candidate forum at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday. Mayor Rick Kriseman is in the foreground.
  5. Review: Mark Bowden's 'Hue 1968' a gripping, and timely, history


    More than 40 years after it ended, America's war in Vietnam is still contentious, still misunderstood, and fast slipping into the fog of history.

     On Feb. 15, 1968, U.S. Marines carry out an assault on Dong Ba Tower in Hue, South Vietnam. In the battle for the tower, six men died and 50 were wounded.