While violent crime statistics continue to drop in the United States, one of the most horrific types of crimes, mass shootings, continue to gain prevalence both home and abroad. While mass shootings are not a new development historically, American mass shootings – which often take place in civilian heavy populations like schools – present a unique challenge for law enforcement officials tasked with protecting America’s citizens.
Traditionally law enforcement responses have long relied on the idea that the suspect has an intent – that the violence is the means by which they choose to pursue a preferred outcome – and as such, the old methodology included establishing a perimeter and communications with the suspect, and negotiating a peaceful result if at all possible. Modern mass-shooters, however, are increasingly not interested in taking hostages or giving demands. Often, they’re not even looking to survive the encounter, opting instead to simply do as much damage as possible before dying in a hail of gunfire or at their own hands.
This shift in the nature of dangerous situations has placed police officers in a difficult position – the same officers we see walking a beat, issuing traffic citations, and responding to domestic disputes are often now the only thing standing between an active shooter and any number of innocent civilians; a reality that is demonstrated by the dramatic photographs of police officers taking positions among and in front of the people they hope to protect as these tragic shootings unfold.
Existing ballistic shields in use by law enforcement often weigh nearly one hundred pounds, and offer a narrow area of protection no wider than the officer himself. This shields are difficult to maneuver with and offer no protection for other officers or civilians trapped in the line of fire – so engineers at Brigham Young University set out to design a new bulletproof shield that was better suited for the challenges faced by today’s law enforcement community.
“We worked with a federal special agent to understand what their needs were, as well as SWAT teams, police officers and law enforcement, and found that the current solutions are often too heavy and not as portable as they would like,” Larry Howell, professor of mechanical engineering at BYU, explained in a news release. “We wanted to create something that was compact, portable, lightweight and worked really well to protect them.”
Drawing inspiration from origami, this new shield weighs only fifty pounds, nearly half that of traditional shields, and unfolds to provide cover for as many as three people. Deployment is incredibly simple; just pull the nearly flat shield from the trunk of the vehicle, grip the top and pull up. The design folds and unfolds so easily, set up takes mere seconds, and once deployed, the shield can stop rounds from most pistols, including 9mm, .357 and even .44 magnum.
Twelve layers of Kevlar wrapped around an aluminum core make the shield incredibly effective at stopping even larger caliber handgun munitions, but designers were concerned that shots fired from a .44 magnum might tip the shield over despite preventing the rounds from penetrating. A recent test conducted by designers and law enforcement officials, however, proved the design to be incredibly sturdy, absorbing the impacts of each round without so much as an indication that it might topple over due to the transferred kinetic energy of the round impacting the Kevlar.
Other potential uses for such a shield include deployment in schools themselves, as the shield can fold into a space only slightly larger than a briefcase and unfold in a matter of seconds in the event of an active shooter incident. Personal security, first responders, and military applications are also easy to imagine.
While the shield is currently in the prototype phase, federal agents working hand in hand with the development team have expressed extreme interest in ushering this new shield from prototype to development, as it has the potential to save lives of both law enforcement officials and innocent people in the event of another mass shooting. Unfortunately, it would seem these types of attacks aren’t going away – but thanks to the development of equipment like this, we may be able to improve response tactics and increase the rate of survivability for all involved.
Watch the shield’s deployment and use below.
Images courtesy of BYU