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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
15 Apr 2023


It is the third generation of police body armour even though it is the first with separate male and female versions
It is the third generation of police body armour even though it is the first with separate male and female versions

Female police officers are to get specially-designed body armour to fit their bodies for the first time.

With a record 50,000 female officers serving in the 43 forces in England and Wales, police armour has been re-designed to be lighter, more flexible and provide not only male but also female versions that fit the contours of a woman’s upper body.

Until now, they have had to put up with unisex armour which many women have said is uncomfortable, inflexible and even painful when worn for hours at a crime scene.

A four-year research and development programme, launched in the wake of the stabbing to death of PC Keith Palmer in front of Parliament, has also led to an overhaul of the design to give extra protection to vulnerable parts of the body such as neck and armpits.

Belinda Goodwin, wellbeing lead for the Police Federation, who has been a driving force in the project, said: “I am quite big chested and I went for years being squashed. It was very uncomfortable for me because you would just be completely and utterly flattened.

“As a female officer, it is definitely a game changer because it's just much more comfortable and you just feel more protected. If officers are not comfortable in their body armour, they won't wear it and we cannot be in that position.”

The development of the new armour has coincided with a surge in knife crime. It is up 68 per cent from 31,000 offences before 2017 when PC Palmer was murdered during a terrorist attack on Parliament to a peak of 52,000 in 2019/20. It fell to 42,000 during Covid but has crept back up to 45,000 in 2021/22.

As part of the research towards a new design, police studied scores of coroners’ reports to understand where and how fatal knife wounds were inflicted, from a full-frontal attack to a nick of an artery or cut that went undetected.

This was combined with research into attacks on police officers to assess the vulnerabilities of the previous unisex versions of body armour. This helped identify the weaknesses around the armpit and neck.

It has resulted in extra body armour, known as Supplementary Knife Resistance (SKRs), which protects the armpit and neck. The SKR can resist a knife driven with a force of 12 joules without discomfort. This is on top of the main back and front plates which are bulletproof and knife resistant to an approved Home Office standard.  

The different-sized male and female versions are between 0.2 kilograms and 0.6 kilograms lighter but without any loss of strength in the polyamide armour.

'Why we didn’t do it years ago, I do not know'

To select the winning company, Cooneen Protection, 29 officers - 15 male and 14 female - from different squads spent five days testing the armour in the field. This ranged from jumping over fences, running up and down stairs and driving police cars to deploying tasers and carrying out CPR resuscitation.

It is the third generation of police body armour even though it is the first with separate male and female versions. “It’s just more contoured and more shapely. Why we didn’t do it years ago, I do not know,” said Ms Goodwin.

It comes after a 74-year-old man was charged with the murder of a female police officer in 2005 after being extradited from Pakistan.

Piran Ditta Khan was brought back to the UK on Tuesday and taken into custody at a West Yorkshire police station where he was accused of killing 38-year-old Sharon Beshenivsky.

Pc Beshenivsky was shot when responding to an armed robbery at a travel agent in Bradford in November 2005. She was nine months into her role with West Yorkshire Police.

Women now make up more than a third (34.9 per cent) of police officers. Of the recruits hired since April 2020, 42.5 per cent - or 13,326 - are women. The Telegraph revealed earlier this year that 40 per cent of chief constable posts in England and Wales are now held by women.

It is now up to individual police forces to decide whether to buy the new design. But Ms Goodwin said: “We’ve been working really hard to help procure this body armour. We want every officer around the country to have the same safety and the same level of comfort."