The murder of Sergeant Christopher Brewster rocked the Houston Police Department, but the danger to the department may not be over.
According to an internal letter sent out by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Sergeant Brewster’s body armor may have been penetrated by one or more handgun rounds fired by the suspect.
In the letter, Chief Acevedo stated:
During the initial stages of our investigation regarding the Capital Murder of Sergeant Christopher Brewster, we have learned that his department issued bullet proof [sic] vest was potentially penetrated by one or more rounds fired by the suspect. (emphasis added)
What We Know
At the time of this writing, it is believed that:
- Sergeant Brewster was wearing his department-issued soft body armor
- Sergeant Brewster was shot at relatively close range
- Sergeant Brewster was struck by one or more rounds in the torso
- the suspect shot Sergeant Brewster with a handgun that was later recovered
In general, soft body armor is designed to stop handgun rounds fired from short-barreled firearms.
A ratings and certification system for body armor was developed by the National Institute of Justice that sets various levels of armor protection. However, no body armor can stop all rounds.
However, there have been cases in the past where inferior materials were used in the construction of body armor that appears to have prematurely degraded. Many believe that these products failed to stop rounds that injured and/or killed police officers.
What We Don’t Know
What we don’t know about the potential body armor failure is more than what we do know at this time.
For example, the following information has not yet been released to the public:
- type of handgun and ammunition used
- where on the vest the penetration(s) happened
- brand/model of body armor worn
- age of the body armor
- rated level of protection of the body armor
There are many reasons why body armor can be penetrated by a fired round. Generally, it is a fairly straightforward physics problem that involves the velocity, size, shape and material of the projectile versus the material, thickness and manufacturing technique of the armor.
As a community, we need more information to make any kind of reasonable decision about the body armor and weapon(s) involved.
Hopefully, the Houston Police Department will be transparent about the information surrounding the death of Sergeant Brewster. The information they share may have life and death implications for other officers.
The Political Angle
Sadly, Chief Acevedo decided to make Sergeant Brewster’s murder as a political tool to promote his agenda. Those political motivations may impact what facts we learn about the potential penetration of Sergeant Brewster’s body armor.
On December 9, Chief Acevedo used part of his time during a press conference to attack members of one political party and members of a civil rights organization.
Chief Acevedo appeared to claim that Republican Senators Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell bore the responsibility of the murder because they are influenced by the National Rifle Association.
Chief Acevedo created a false choice through the emotionally charged statement:
And who killed our sergeant? A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend. So you’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts or you’re here for the NRA.
According to this political appointee, it is impossible to be a member of the National Rifle Association and be against the abuse of women and children.
It’s interesting to note that Chief Acevedo’s ire toward federal lawmakers of one party ignores the fact that under Texas law the suspect was already a prohibited person who was in illegal possession of the firearm used.
Put simply: Chief Acevedo is manufacturing a crisis where none exists. And doing so when his Sergeant’s family is still planning for his funeral.
The veracity of any statement Chief Acevedo releases about the potential penetration of Sergeant Brewster’s body armor must be carefully examined. After all, we don’t want to make bad laws or wrongly impune a body armor company to further one man’s agenda.
What We Need to Watch
If Sergeant Brewster’s body armor was penetrated, it may not be due to a failure of the vest or the use of any exotic ammunition. It may simply be that the armor wasn’t rated for the rounds fired at it.
Keep in mind:
All body armor can be penetrated.
The notion of bulletproof armor is comedic at best. Nevertheless, it is a term used by many people in the media and even Chief Acevedo.
NIJ standard 0106.06 establishes three levels of handgun protection in body armor suitable for law enforcement use. These are identified as Level IIA, Level II and Level IIIA. IIA offers the least amount of protection while IIIA offers the most. Hard plates are designed to stop rifle rounds. These are not good for daily wear but are perfectly suited for an active shooter response plate carrier.
In soft body armor, Level IIIA may offer the most protection, but even it will not stop all handgun rounds. There are many factory ammunition loads that will penetrate IIIA armor. Additionally, anyone who handloads ammunition (like me) can easily develop a load that exceeds the stopping capability of IIIA body armor.
Body armor only offers resistance, not safety.
In the coming days and weeks, we may see additional information about this incident. Information coming from the Houston Police Department will likely be washed by its public relations unit and possibly be tainted by politics.
Additionally, the department may foresee a lawsuit – either against them or filed by them – and position the information to put its interests in the best possible light.
Likewise, any information released by a body armor manufacturer will likely be carefully worded to minimize any exposure to legal liability.
We’ll do our best to get to the truth of the situation. Should you have any insight or additional details, please comment below.