The removable ceramic plates, which are part of the body armour systems (BAS) being rolled out to police officers nationwide, are not designed to be worn permanently because of the extra weight they add to the vest.
However, due to the high number of firearms in their communities, and the genuine belief they may confront an armed offender in the course of their duty, many staff in Auckland, particularly in Counties Manukau, are opting to carry the extra load.
As Region 2 director Senior Sergeant Emiel Logan (response manager for Counties Manukau West) notes, his PST sections deal with firearm incidents every day.
“Most of the response staff in Counties Manukau leave the plates in every shift because they know that we deal with firearms daily.”
The messaging from Police is that plates are meant to be inserted in the lining of the BAS vests if staff feel they might be required, and then removed.
In practice, however, the new system is slower, and the plates are more complicated to insert, than the old HAP (hard armour plate) protection, which was more easily put on over the top of the previous SRBA (stab-resistance body armour) vests.
Sliding in the plates and then removing them can be difficult if there are additional stressors due to the tight fit of the vests, Emiel says.
It seems that police officers would rather risk back pain than face the risk of heading out without ballistic protection already in place.
A feature of the new BAS is that the vests are much lighter than the SRBA, but that advantage appears to have been negated by the requirements of the current policing environment.
Emiel says some staff have complained of back pain and vests have been refitted, but that doesn’t always eliminate the back issues.
“So, while it was expected that there would be a decrease in back pain due to the new vests, which are lighter than the SRBA, that has not happened for those who feel the need to wear the ballistic plates fulltime.”
He says the situation will have to be monitored in terms of member wellbeing.
“The long-term effects of the spinal pain due to vests is something that can occur over time and is not recognised as a workplace-related injury. Our members currently incur the cost of any medical treatment or procedures for this as it is usually put down to wear and tear by specialists.”
Police has invested $20.7 million over four years in the BAS vests, which it says meet international safety standards for both stab and ballistic resistance.