CENTERVILLE, Iowa -- Increasing gun violence is one of the most dangerous threats facing law enforcement. When a bullet-proof vest isn't enough protection, officers will strap on body armor.
The Ames Police Department is turning to a new Iowa company, RMA Armament, to help them protect and serve.
“It's important to have this stuff because you just never know what's going to happen,” said Ames Sgt. Derek Grooters.
Officers add another layer of protection before heading into a high-risk situation where there’s a high chance that guns will be involved.
“It’s your first line of defense,” explained Blake Waldrop, designer of the body armor.
Waldrop has been on the front lines first as a marine then as a cop.
"Between my military and law enforcement experience, I have worn multiple types of body armor," Waldrop said.
His experience is now helping him create better body armor to keep Iowa officers safer in the line of duty. This spring, Waldrop set up shop in the old Armory in Centerville. His body armor is designed to stop multiple direct hits. The secret weapon is in the gridded system of small tiles of ceramic.
“How we lay them off, the adhesives and types of products and the process that we use, the plate comes out just phenomenally strong. So when a bullet hits it, it not only takes out the section of where it is, but we also tell it where to crack. So the next section over remains intact which is why it can take multiple hits,” Waldrop explained.
The process of making the armored plate begins with cutting a pattern. Next, it is tiled, layered, counted and weighed by hand. Then, two custom-made presses go to work. Both are built to pack a punch, more than 1,000 tons of pressure per square inch. Waldrop says that’s the equivalent of being on the bottom of the ocean.
The Level III plate is the most common body armor sold to Iowa Law Enforcement.
“It will stop up to a 308, and that will defeat all your common 223s your 556s,” described Waldrop.
In other words, the ceramic-tiled plate is designed to defeat most of Iowa’s rifle ammunition and handguns.
RMA's strongest plate is the Level IV. An independent lab test showed six rounds from a high-caliber rifle didn't go through the front or back. That strength comes at a cost.
“There's cheap armor, there's expensive armor. What we produce here is more expensive, but it's also proven to be superior. So again, what is your life worth?” asked Waldrop.
He says it’s humbling and honoring to still be part of the profession, a profession that's becoming increasingly dangerous.
“Our lives depend on it,” said Grooters. “Our goal everyday especially just in police work and any other time, is just to go home.”
RMA Armament is a company of six employees. Once it's running at full steam, it could employ as many as 20 people in Centerville.