Director’s Message

In the early 1970s, one of NIJ’s staff had a “eureka” moment. He wondered if a new material called Kevlar, principally used in car tires, might work as a type of armor to protect police officers. Working with a colleague from the Defense Department, they convinced NIJ and DoD to work together to test out the idea.

By 1975, work on the project had progressed to the point where the material worked in controlled tests. Now it was time to field-test it. That summer, 5,000 prototype bullet-resistant vests, relatively soft and lightweight, were distributed to 15 urban police departments. But researchers knew what the next logical step was—analyzing the performance of a vest involved in an actual police shooting. And that meant that someone had to get shot while wearing one.

The uneasy vigil ended on the evening of December 23, 1975, when one of the vests stopped bullets fired at a Seattle police officer—and saved his life. And with that event NIJ claimed the first in a line of successes from its body armor standards and testing program—more than 3,000 police officer lives saved.

This issue of the NIJ Journal features an article describing NIJ’s body armor program on its 30th anniversary and summarizing a critical review of the program currently underway as part of the Attorney General’s Body Armor Safety Initiative.

This issue also explores how recent advances in another technology—biometrics—can protect people, in this case schoolchildren. NIJ recently sponsored a program evaluating iris-recognition technology in a New Jersey elementary school. Researchers evaluated how effectively the technology could identify the teachers, parents, and other adults who were supposed to be there—and keep out those who were not.

But technology can cut both ways. Just as law enforcement uses technology to prevent or investigate crime, perpetrators use technology to commit crime. Often, State and local police departments must scramble to keep up. To help them, NIJ sponsors the Electronic Crimes Partnership Initiative (ECPI), a group of law enforcement practitioners who train police officers to investigate and solve computer crimes and to search for and collect digital evidence in criminal investigations. Their work is featured in “How Law Enforcement Can Level the Playing Field With Criminals.”

In response to the global rise of suicide terrorism, NIJ convened an international panel of specialists to discuss how to use research to understand the dynamics of this troubling phenomenon, to combat its use, and to mitigate its effects. You can read a summary of that conference in this edition.

The articles in this issue of the NIJ Journal exemplify the wide-ranging scope of NIJ’s research, development, and evaluation activities—and the dedication and creativity of its employees—in pursuit of an improved criminal justice system. I hope you will find something of interest in the pages that follow.

Glenn R. Schmitt
Acting Director, National Institute of Justice