Injuries to law enforcement officers: the backface signature injury

Forensic Sci Int. 2008 Jan 15;174(1):6-11. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.02.028. Epub 2007 Apr 16.


In today's law enforcement community, one of the most vital tools an officer can possess is personal body armor. However, a recent Department of Justice investigation has raised important questions regarding the protection actually afforded officers through the use of personal body armor, and the current test methods used to assess the armor. Test results show that most Zylon-containing vests showed deformations in excess of the 0101.04 Standard's 44 mm backface signature limit. Such increased deformation can lead to serious injuries, including backface signature injuries, which have occurred in the field. Although the vest is successful in containing the round, it is not effectively dissipating the energy enough to prevent large amounts of vest deformation at the area of impact. Therefore, open, penetrating wounds occur even though the bullet did not penetrate the vest. The objective of the current study was to further define the backface signature injury through the use of case studies and laboratory experiments. Following the case study investigation, backface signature testing was conducted using a clay medium based on the NIJ 0101.04 Standard. The final component of this research involved the use of post-mortem human specimens (PMHS) for further investigation of the backface signature injury. Although the underlying cause of backface signature injuries is unknown, energy density is likely to play a role in the mechanism. Energy density (E/a) is defined as the energy per unit area and has been previously used in less lethal skin penetration research. Further research into the underlying causes of backface signature injuries is necessary. In addition to armor testing, the study of law enforcement personnel who have been shot while wearing soft body armor is also a valuable tool for determining the effectiveness of certification standards. Finally, it is important for medical personnel to recognize the backface signature injury and document this as a type of injury separate from blunt trauma or penetrating trauma behind armor injuries. Detailed knowledge of the injury, including the depth of the wound, would be beneficial to the scientific community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cadaver
  • Female
  • Forensic Ballistics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxazoles
  • Police*
  • Polymers
  • Protective Clothing*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / pathology*


  • Oxazoles
  • Polymers
  • poly(4-phenylene-2,6-benzobisoxazole)
  • Kevlar 49