The Korea Herald

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지나쌤

S. Korean police to suit up with new body armor, shields in June

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 7, 2024 - 14:12

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This photo provided by the National Police Agency shows four types of body armor that will be distributed to local police officers starting in June. (National Police Agency) This photo provided by the National Police Agency shows four types of body armor that will be distributed to local police officers starting in June. (National Police Agency)

The National Police Agency said Tuesday it will supply police officers with advanced protective gear starting in June, responding to the 1,000-plus injuries of officers that have occurred in the last few years.

The new gear that will be provided for police officers are four types of stab-proof body armor and mid-sized tactical shields, which will be provided to 17 divisions of the police force including the detective, rapid response team, traffic and other branches of regional police forces.

The four types of protective wearables are: multi-function vests for comprehensive protection against knife attacks, lighter, more mobile vests to be worn inside the clothing for officers on patrol duties or detectives, thinner jackets that provide protection against cuts, and a neck guard against to prevent stabbing to the neck area.

According to the NPA, the gear went through a development program from 2021 to 2023, and a 12.4 billion won ($9.1 million) budget was allocated last year for their production and distribution.

South Korean police had been seeking to provide the officers with protective gear that is lighter and easier to wear than the current body armor and pads, which weigh over 8 kilograms when combined. The new multifunctional stab-proof vests, which is the heaviest of the four, weigh 2.1 kilograms.

The two lighter vests were developed specifically for undercover officers, and the cut-proof vest is said to be thin and light enough to wear all the time.

This photo provided by the National Police Agency shows the new tactical shield that will be distributed to local police officers, starting in June. (National Police Agency) This photo provided by the National Police Agency shows the new tactical shield that will be distributed to local police officers, starting in June. (National Police Agency)

The new tactical shield was developed in response to calls for one that is smaller than the one currently used by the tactical team -- too big to carry in a patrol car -- and bigger than the one used by regional police -- deemed too small to provide sufficient protection. It focuses on shock absorption and is transparent so as not to hinder the holder's vision.

"We hope that the newly-provided safety equipment will allow officials to more actively and safety respond to crimes," NPA Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun said.

According to local media, South Korea last year saw 44 reports of "abnormal motive crimes," a new category of crime created in 2022. These crimes -- including two stabbing rampages in the capital area in summer 2023 that killed a total of three and injured 15 members of the public -- have also been referred to as "mudjima" or "don't-ask-why" crimes because they appear to be unprovoked attacks on random people.

Such attacks sparked concerns for some over the safety of police officers, who are strictly regulated against using guns. According to NPA data revealed last August, no gun shots were fired by any police officers in 2023 up to that point, while only three shots were fired each in 2021 and 2022.

From 2018 to 2022, a total of 8,540 police officers were injured while on duty, with 2,298 of them in an attack by a suspect.

The number of injuries to police in 2022 was 1,451, with 338 of these being during an attack by a suspect. The figures marked an increase from 1,167 and 288, respectively, in 2021.