For 48 of the 50 states, the county sheriff is a highly-valued, traditional figure of law enforcement. Depending on the sheriff's county, they may find themselves heading just one or two team-members (such as in rural locations, which feature more sparse populations), or they could operate in a busy department with a large roster of officers. Obviously, a sheriff in an urban area such as Los Angeles or Chicago is likely to face a higher number of volatile situations than one based in a rural county, but there are, of course, no guarantees: each shift will bring its own challenges, and a sheriff may never know what these may be.

Body armor is an essential part of the modern police officer's uniform when hostile armed suspects are a common threat. This is an unfortunate part of policing today's world, but thankfully there are now more options for protection than ever before. Today's sheriff can choose from a wide range of armor, offering protection against knives, handguns, and rifles, amongst other common weapons.

Ballistic Vests

Without a doubt, the most dangerous threat a sheriff is likely to face on duty is a suspect armed with a high-caliber weapon. Whatever the situation – a traffic stop gone wrong, a domestic incident spiraling out of control, or even a siege – the right ballistic vest can save lives. There are various types available now, with vests designed to protect against 9mm handguns through to automatic rifles. For greater simplicity, these are ranked in levels: II, IIIa and IV.

As this ranking suggests, different vests offer varying protection against different rounds. Level II armor is designed to prevent injury from handguns, typically 9mm rounds as previously mentioned, and are commonly worn by officers on street patrol. As sheriff, the wearer is likely to be incredibly familiar with their county, and know which areas may pose more of a risk. In this case, the sheriff may choose to wear a level II or IIIa vest for attending a domestic incident in a low-risk neighborhood, or patrolling streets on a busy evening. These will usually feature Kevlar as part of their design – one of the most commonly used materials for effective protection. Bullets are stopped before they can pass through the armor, and while the round may not penetrate, severe bruising may still occur.

Level IV vests are designed for more heavy-duty weaponry, such as sub-machine guns or rifles, and feature dense materials such as ceramics or Dyneema polyethylene. As a sheriff, wearing robust, reliable protection ensures you set a solid example for the rest of the team: be prepared for any situation.

Stab Protection

Knives are a perennial threat to law enforcement officers, and as with ballistics vests, edged blade armor (otherwise known as a stab vest) is categorized based on the level of protection it offers: levels II and III (the latter level applies to vests designed to prevent injury from attacks made with a higher number of joules).

Spiked weapons can also be used as improvised weapons by suspects, particularly in domestic situations or when they may feel under threat of arrest. A large needle, an ice pick or a broken bottle may cause a severe injury when used with enough force, and can even be fatal – spiked armor vests can save lives by stopping the tip from passing through the threads in the material, as they would with normal clothing.

It's important to remember that one kind of body armor does not offer protection against all weapons: if a sheriff or sheriff's officer wearing a stab vest is fired upon, the armor will not stop the bullet, and the same applies when an officer wearing a ballistics vest is attacked with a sharp object. The wearer must consider which type of armor they're wearing before they enter a situation which may pose a threat – the right approach can make all the difference.

Should Armor be Covert or Overt?

There is no easy answer to this question, or, indeed, just one. Wearing covert or overt armor is entirely down to you, as sheriff or sheriff's officer – you may be able to judge which will be appropriate depending on the areas you are likely to patrol, and the situations you expect to face. An overt vest is worn over the uniform, and is typically of a bulky design – this may provoke a variety of reactions from civilians. Some neighborhoods, for example, may greet the sight of a law enforcement representative dressed in an obvious ballistics vest as an insult, or, conversely, find it highly unnerving. On the other hand, it may alert potential criminals to the fact that a sheriff or sheriff's officer is in the vicinity, and prepared for trouble.

In certain scenarios, covert vests may be more appropriate. These are worn beneath the uniform, and provide reliable protection in a more discrete way. Covert vests are favored by officers in civilian clothing, or working undercover – they offer peace of mind without highlighting the wearer as a law enforcement official. Though thinner than overt vests, covert armors usually feature moisture wicking fabrics to help keep the wearer cool when wearing multiple layers.

Another option is the covert / overt vest, which offers great versatility: the wearer can choose to wear this over or under their uniform as the situation dictates. These are manufactured to provide more protection than a standard covert vest, but are still thinner than most overt vests – this range of choice makes this armor a valuable product to keep close to hand at all times.

Choosing which type of armor is down to the individual sheriff or sheriff's officer. Depending on the types of people and situations you expect to encounter on an average shift, you should be able to assess the likelihood of specific risks beforehand. However, it's important to remember the unfortunate fact that no shift is guaranteed to be 'average', and complacency should be avoided.

Size and Fit: Key Considerations

This will come as no surprise to you if you've worn body armor before, but choosing the right fit for your body and needs is essential. Why? Because armor is designed to protect the body's vital organs, they should only cover the central part of the torso – they should hang no lower than the navel area. If a vest does exceed this length, then it may leave the wearer's range of motion inhibited, which can be potentially fatal in a volatile situation.

Before you order body armor, you should measure yourself thoroughly to ensure the best fit and maximum protection. Never wear a vest which feels uncomfortable, be it too big or too small – this could be a fatal mistake.

When choosing armor, it's important to remember that you're investing in a product which may save your life someday. Never skimp on cost, and never wear a vest which is damaged in any way – this could limit its effectiveness, and allow injuries to still occur.

If in doubt, seek expert advice – and stay safe.