Police to upgrade body armour worn by tactical support team

Winnipeg's police are upgrading the body armour worn by members of its tactical support team.

New vests and trauma plates touted as being lighter, more comfortable - and better able to withstand weapons

The Winnipeg Police Service plans to purchase new body armour for its tactical unit. (City of Winnipeg)

Winnipeg's police are upgrading the body armour worn by members of its tactical support team.

The Winnipeg Police Service is looking for a contractor capable of replacing the vests worn by the officers who respond to the incidents where there is the greatest potential for violence.

The existing equipment worn by members of the tactical support team is nearing the end of its life, said Insp. John Lutz, who's in charge of special operations with the Winnipeg Police Service.

Right now, the officers wear vests armoured with Kevlar panels. They will be replaced with what Lutz describes as a more technologically advanced product that encompasses "trauma plates" that are better able to withstand bullets and thrusts from edged weapons.

Police face a slightly elevated risk of violent encounters, Lutz said Wednesday, citing increased weapons seizures by the Winnipeg Police Service.

"There were always concerns about high-powered rifles and edged weapons. Over the last 20 years we've seen a little bit of an increase," Lutz said in an interview at Winnipeg's police headquarters.

Documents posted on the city's procurement website state the police wish to purchase a product called the "tactical operations response carrier," manufactured by Michigan-based company Armor Express. 

"Our advanced plate carrier design features abundant coverage options, ergonomic fit, scalable components and low profile architecture," Armor Express states on its website.

Insp. John Lutz said the existing vests worn by tactical team officers are nearing the end of their life. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The new vests will have shoulder pads, pockets, pouches and other ways to carry flashlights, handcuffs, extra magazines and other equipment that can encumber a tactical-support officer with about 20 kilograms of gear.

"They're not the most comfortable things," Lutz said, adding  the new vests ought to improve the comfort level for officers. "Some of the materials are a little more advanced. They're a little lighter and as such, they'll be a little more comfortable."

The vests will also have shoulder-mounted attachments capable of holding hydration tubes, similar to the ones embedded in the backpacks used by distance hikers.

"It's a hot summer day in Winnipeg. They're dressed with this extra vest which heats them up and they need to stay hydrated," Lutz explained.

The city order is for 13 of the new vests. There are a total of 37 members assigned to the tactical support team: one person in charge and four shifts of nine officers, Lutz said.