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 wasanalyzing 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 officerand saved his life.
And with that event NIJ claimed the first in a line
of successes from its body armor standards and testing
programmore than 3,000 police officer lives
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
technologybiometricscan 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 thereand 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 activitiesand the
dedication and creativity of its employeesin
pursuit of an improved criminal justice system. I
hope you will find something of interest in the pages
Glenn R. Schmitt
Acting Director, National Institute of Justice