BACKGROUND: The law enforcement officer profession requires performance of arduous occupational tasks while carrying an external load, consisting of, at minimum, a chest rig, a communication system, weaponry, handcuffs, personal protective equipment and a torch. The aim of this systematic review of the literature was to identify and critically appraise the methodological quality of published studies that have investigated the impacts of body armour on task performance and to synthesize and report key findings from these studies to inform law enforcement organizations.
METHODS: Several literature databases (Medline, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, EMBAS) were searched using key search words and terms to identify appropriate studies. Studies meeting the inclusion criteria were critically evaluated using the Downs and Black protocol with inter-rater agreement determined by Cohen's Kappa.
RESULTS: Sixteen articles were retained for evaluation with a mean Downs and Black score of 73.2 ± 6.8% (k = 0.841). Based on the research quality and findings across the included studies, this review determined that while effects of body armour on marksmanship and physiological responses have not yet been adequately ascertained, body armour does have significant physical performance and biomechanical impacts on the wearer, including: a) increased ratings of perceived exertion and increased time to complete functional tasks, b) decreased work capability (indicated by deterioration in fitness test scores), c) decreased balance and stability, and d) increased ground reaction forces.
CONCLUSIONS: Given the physical performance and biomechanical impacts on the wearer, body armour should be carefully selected, with consideration of the physical fitness of the wearers and the degree to which the armour systems can be ergonomically optimized for the specific population in question.