Law Enforcement Body Armor:

DOJ Supports Its Use and Enhancements, but Could Strengthen Management of Its Related Grant Programs

GAO-12-448T: Published: Feb 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2012.

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Contact:

David C. Maurer
(202) 512-9627
maurerd@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

DOJ has a number of initiatives to support body armor use by state and local law enforcement, including grant funding, research, standards development, and testing programs. Two separate BJA grant programs provide funding to state and local law enforcement to facilitate their body armor purchases. The BVP program offers 2-year grants on a reimbursable, matching basis to state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in their purchasing of ballistic-resistant and stab-resistant body armor. Generally, the JAG program provides 4-year grant money up front that can be used to fund body armor procurement along with other criminal justice activities. Since the BVP program’s inception in 1999, it has reimbursed grantees $247 million for their purchases of nearly 1 million vests. The JAG program has provided nearly $4 billion from fiscal years 2006 through 2011, but BJA does not know how much of this amount grantees have spent on body armor because it is not required to track expenditures for specific purposes. Instead, BJA reports that from fiscal years 2006 through 2011, 357 grantees intended to use JAG funds for ballistic-resistant vest procurement, but it does not track how many grantees intended to purchase stab-resistant vests.

DOJ has designed several controls, consistent with internal control standards, to manage and coordinate BJA’s and NIJ’s body armor activities; however, we recommended five actions that BJA could take to strengthen its practices over the BVP and JAG grant programs.

BJA designed controls for the BVP program to check the eligibility of grantee payment requests, help prevent improper payments to grantees, and ensure grantee compliance with program requirements. However, BJA needs to take two key actions to improve the BVP program’s internal controls (1) improve the management of funds from closed grants, and (2) expand information available to grantees on its key program requirements.

There are multiple factors that affect body armor’s use and effectiveness, including

  • law enforcement agencies’ policies, such as those mandating wear;
  • the comfort; fit, and coverage of the vests;
  • degradation caused by wear and tear;
  • care and maintenance; and
  • exposure to environmental conditions.

For example, based on our interviews and research on these factors, we reported that body armor can create discomfort for an officer through reduced mobility, increased weight, heat build up under the armor, and chafing. As a result, such discomfort may cause an officer to discontinue wearing the armor. In addition, if the body armor is poorly fitting, it can create both discomfort and affect total coverage area. Further, designing comfortable, well-fitting body armor for female law enforcement officers is particularly challenging, according to the six body armor manufacturers in our sample.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the findings of our report being publicly issued today assessing the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) body armor initiatives. Nationwide, nearly 60 law enforcement officers were killed in 2010 after firearm-related assaults, but recent data show that body armor has saved the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers since 1987. Recognizing body armor as an effective tool in helping to protect law enforcement officers, DOJ—through its Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and its National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—has implemented initiatives, such as direct grants to states and localities to support their body armor use, as well as research and testing for compliance with standards to continuously improve body armor effectiveness. These initiatives have involved internal and external stakeholders, including law enforcement components within DOJ; components within the Department of Commerce and the Department of Defense (DOD) that conduct related body armor research; and private entities, such as those that manufacture and assist in testing body armor. This testimony will address the key findings from the body armor report that we are issuing today. Like that report, this statement will address (1) the body armor efforts that DOJ has under way, (2) the extent to which DOJ has designed internal controls to manage and coordinate these efforts, and (3) factors that affect body armor use and effectiveness and steps DOJ has taken to address them.

For more information, contact David Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov

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