Wearing a body armor vest, a bicycle helmet and other police gear, Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Todd Webb stood straight-faced Thursday afternoon as he swallowed a fat, white pill.
He then took a few steps and hopped on his bicycle while the pill — a tiny thermometer encapsulated in a silicon shell — worked its way into Webb’s digestive system where it would measure his body temperature as he bicycled around downtown Baton Rouge.
Webb, like many Baton Rouge police officers this week, took the pill as part of a nationwide research study aimed at determining what can be done to make body armor, most notably bulletproof vests, as cool and comfortable as possible without jeopardizing the armor’s main purpose: keeping people safe.
Police officers around the nation have complained that wearing body armor makes them feel too hot. So much so, in fact, that some officers elect to forgo body armor under their uniforms because it’s just too toasty, said Doug Kleiner, a researcher involved in the study who also is a police officer in Florida.
“It’s like wearing a trash bag,” Webb, the Baton Rouge police officer, said of donning a bulletproof vest.
After hearing similar sentiments about body armor from officers across the country, the National Institute of Justice commissioned the study. Working alongside a research professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Kleiner traveled to a handful of law enforcement agencies from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay, Florida, handing out the pills to measure the officers’ body temperatures.
Officers wear a radio slightly larger than a deck of cards after taking the pill, which transmits signals from inside the body to the receiver. The receiver then records the body temperatures collected by the thermometer inside the pill, Kleiner said.
Each individual pill is only used once, and a pill does not have to be collected once it passes through someone’s digestive system.
Researchers will analyze the results to determine exactly how hot officers get while wearing the vests, which Kleiner describes as bullet-resistant, not bulletproof.
Depending on the results, the government will then work with body armor manufacturers to determine what changes can be made while still ensuring armor serves its purpose effectively, Kleiner said.
He said NASA developed the technology of testing body temperatures by using the encapsulated thermometers, and they have been used by astronauts, the military and athletes.
Members of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Special Response Team, Uniform Patrol Division, motorcycle unit, K-9 unit and mounted patrol unit tested the technology this week.
The Police Department highly recommends its officers wear body armor at all times, although it’s not mandatory, said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman.
However, the body armor must be “immediately available” if it’s not being worn, he said.
Coppola said he always wears his vest when dressed in full uniform. Although the vest does make him feel hot, the protection is certainly worth the discomfort, he said.
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