Riot shields are generally used by police, corrections, and security personnel in a defensive manner when there is unrest or violent protests that threaten the safety of the public and officers. Also known as capture shields or anti-riot shields, these tools are typically made of polycarbonate or metal to protect again knives, hurled objects, kicks, and punches.
While shields have been around for thousands of years, they became necessary and popular following violent protests in Europe in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. There are different kinds of riot shield designs on the market. Each has its unique advantages and limitations. It is therefore up to the individual department or agency to select the appropriate shield(s) for the specific threats they need to protect against.
how riot shields protect their users
Riot shields are primarily designed to protect the user from a variety of blunt objects and projectiles. In a riot or melee situation, anything and everything in close proximity can be used as a weapon. As you can see in the image above, protestors in Bavet, Cambodia are throwing rocks at law enforcement.
Riot shields vary in thickness from 2 - 8mm, but most are made of 4 - 6mm thick polycarbonate. These shields help to protect an area, control a tense situation, and help law enforcement push back individuals when needed. Given the dynamic nature of these events, the shields protect the user from a number of hurled threats including chairs, rocks, and bricks as well as spit and punches.
Various other protections may be included with shields depending on the manufacturer. Some are flame retardant, protecting users against high temperatures and heat. Others have inherent protections against chemicals and biological substances such as blood, urine, and feces. In order to protect against contamination and infectious diseases, shields should be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with the department's standard operating procedures and manufacturer cleaning recommendations.
As with anything, a riot shield will sustain damage and break due to excessive or repetitive strikes. Edges of the shield are susceptible to damage caused by dropping as well. Riot shields are NOT bulletproof or bullet resistant. In such applications, a ballistic shield is necessary. Most riot shields are also ineffective in stopping arrows.
how riot shields are used
Special event security, tactical police units, corrections officers, crisis response forces, quick reaction forces (QRF), disorder control units, and general security contracting companies all use riot shields. Outside of prison cell extractions, riot shields are almost always used for defensive purposes to protect the public in unstable situations. Their clear design gives users an unobstructed line of sight and provides immediate situation assessment.
These shields are always used in conjunction with other riot or protective gear. While tactics may vary, the shields serve to block or deflect threatening objects and people. The shield is typically carried with one hand, leaving the other hand free. In the image above, Brazilian anti-riot police are equipped with protective riot gear as they escort referees off the field.
Unfortunately, some overzealous rioters often bring riot shields of their own. They use replica airsoft riot shields or make shields out of wood or scrap metal that can be used against police and other rioters if things get out of hand.
In some cases, the riot or crowd control threat is brief and known in advance. For example, rowdy soccer fans have been known to throw bottles and other objects from a distance at a player, referee or security officer. While these situations can certainly escalate , they mostly are short lived and don’t subject officers to a constant barrage of projectiles.
In larger scale protests, officers may be subjected to prolonged unruly behavior and violent outbursts as with the image above from an Indonesian protest. These dynamic, unstable events can involve crowds violently clashing with and attacking officers as well as breaking through barriers and perimeters. In these cases, riot shields are subjected to more abuse.
In jails or correctional facilities, shields are used for riot control situations along with cell extractions.
In post active shooter events, riot shields can be used to help secure a scene. This involves everything from clearing a building, guiding people to specific areas, and crowd control.
It might be surprising to hear that shields are a common tool used to protect against or herd animals as well. They cover rabid or scared animals that may exhibit territorial or defensive behavior, even animals like cranes and swans have sharp beaks that can cause cuts and bruising. There are cases where zookeepers and animal control use riot shields to protect themselves when entering enclosures to feed or check on animals. As you can see in the picture above, a nearly 6ft tall crane attacks the shield as it protects the zookeeper and allows him to exit the enclosure safely.
riot shield weight
Riot shields require a compact and mobile design. As a result, most weigh less than ballistic shields.
The shield’s weight will vary by size, thickness, features, and materials used. Rectangular shields tend to weigh between 6 and 14 lbs (2.7 - 6.5 kg) while most circular shields weigh around 4 - 5 lbs (1.8 - 2.3 kg).
riot shield size, shape, & design
Riot shields are typically round or rectangular in shape and are made of transparent polycarbonate or plastic. While their size can vary, most rectangular shields tend to be between 36 and 48 inches long, which will generally cover a user’s body from head to knee. These shields are typically 20 to 24 inches (51-61 cm) wide. Circular shields are commonly 24 inches (61 cm) in diameter.
These shields have to have a combination of speed and durability. They need to be strong enough to withstand the impact and dangers from projectiles and threats (like flames in the Hong Kong protest image below) as well as be light and compact enough for an officer to use quickly.
Most riot shields are flat or concave (curves inward) to deflect projectiles, liquids, and other hazards. Some capture shields are convex (curve outward). These are helpful when an officer or agent wants to pin an aggressor against a wall as often happens in corrections during cell extractions and violent outbursts. Some shields are designed to interlock to increase protection in large scale disturbances. This forces officers to work together to ensure there are no protection gaps.
Finally, there are hybrid shields like the EXS-B02 pictured below. These have a bubble design that curves outwards. This is to make sure that when liquids are thrown, they do not reach the shield carrier. This is also a heavy duty “bubble” riot shield used for aggressive riot operations. The outwards facing bubble allows the user to move freely behind it during anti-riot operations with aggressive protestors.
riot shield color & finish
As mentioned above, most shields are clear, which allows the officer to see without obstructions.
Some riot shields are made of aluminum alloy or other metals. While these reduce some of the officer’s visibility, they do provide a tactical advantage as protestors cannot see what the officer is holding. These are popular in riot situations where there may be flammable threats like molotov cocktails. They also perform well in dealing with projectiles. Some of these metal shields even have holes drilled into them to allow the officers to see.
Select shield models can be customized with ID labels or name plates on the front that identify the agency like Police, Corrections, Security, and Sheriff. As can be seen in the image above, this is helpful in identifying to what department they belong.
Riot shield manufacturers also consider the health and well-being of rioters as well. Simple design features like rounded edges and protective rubber buffers that cover any outward facing bolt heads help minimize damage and pain if someone is hit by a shield.
riot shield handles
Riot shields need to be lightweight and comfortable to hold and operate for extended periods. The shield angle needs to be adjusted quickly and easily to block or deflect the threat as well as possible. In addition, the shield position needs to be adjusted easily to allow the officer to move forward or backward or even run if needed.
Handle design is of tremendous value in making all this possible, and there are a couple of key points to consider:
- The handles are constructed of either metal or reinforced plastic and are molded so the user can make a fist to assist in holding them.
- The handles are fastened to the shield by grommets or glued.
- Various types of handles allow for different positions on the arm and with carry positions.
- Velcro Strapping Systems are strongly recommended.
Some handle types include:
- Tri-Grip (or triangular ambidextrous) handle for different carry methods
- Double handle offers improved stability and strength (useful when pinning down a person with capture shields)
- Comfort-molded cradle handle with high-density foam adds comfort and strength
- Reversible Handle with breakaway strap design
- Strap or loop only
For cases where physical confrontation is a possibility, an additional arm holder (usually a strap) can be added, so that the shield is held in two places; by the hand and around the arm. These are ambidextrous designs that work with either hand though the shield needs to be rotated 180 degrees to switch carrying hands. This is the likely reason why some riot shields in pictures have ID labels (Police, Sheriff, etc.) that appear upside down.
Like anything else, sometimes handles break and need to be replaced. Select manufacturers offer replacement handles. Consult the manufacturer recommendations and warranty before purchasing or installing a unique handle system to an existing shield.
Riot shields are designed with no outward protrusions (surface or item) that can act as a handle or point for protestors to grab onto. That means that any accessories need to be mounted to the inside of the shield or incorporated into the handle.
For example, the Take Down Tactical Handle from Mace Tactical Solutions can be mounted to the inside of shields to deliver OC aerosol spray to most riot or capture shields.
riot shield sound & stun devices
The use of sound technology in a security application is still in development. Some shields come with an acoustic dispersion system to help disperse crowds.
Shock and stun shields simply produce an electronic stun as a deterrent. These electric shock shields like the NOVA Gen 5 Electronic Stun Capture Shield and SecPro Stun Tech Anti Riot Shield can temporarily immobilize violent protestors. While this may sound extreme, it offers protection from deranged or violent individuals and rabid animals. This non-lethal option can neutralize threats quickly to protect the public. These shields look intimidating for a reason. They are designed to help resolve conflict through psychological intimidation, thus avoiding physical confrontation.
Officers also use sound, stun, and distraction devices outside of shields. These include vehicle mounted LRAD (long range acoustic device) sound cannons, pepper spray, tear gas, and electronic distraction devices. As with anything else, officers need to weigh risk versus rewards when considering these options.
riot shield cost
Riot shields can vary widely in price from $100 to upwards of $1,000 (USD). Most shields used by law enforcement agencies cost between $100 and $300
Some basic shields on the market are available for under $100. These include airsoft shields like the Evike.com CQB Riot Shield that are appropriate for camera crews, close quarters airsoft training, and simulations.
riot shield life & warranty
Depending on what is thrown at them or what they are subjected to, riot shields could have a short life.
Normally, it’s a good idea to replace shields after they are used heavily during riots or kept in storage for over 3 - 5 years. If you see cracks or chips in them, or if they seem to lose flexibility, then you should consider replacement.
Given the differences in shields, useful life will vary. Different manufacturers provide different warranties on their shields. This will depend on the manufacturer, shield construction, and damage sustained. If stored properly with minimal damage, riot shields can last indefinitely. That said, several riot shield manufacturers communicate that the shields will last 3 - 5 years under normal use when stored in proper conditions.
It’s very important that users inspect their shields on a yearly basis to make sure no damage has occurred to them during storage so that they are ready for deployment.
innovative riot shields
DISCLAIMER: FoxFury does not endorse any of these shields. These models were selected as they show progressive designs and unique features.
- EDI RUB-X Riot Shield: has rubber edges to help minimize damage from chipping during riot operations and from damage when dropped. Pictured at top left.
- Armadillo Interlocking Shield: uses an ancient Roman shield design to form a protective and rigid barrier. Officers are protected from bricks and heat with this design while rubber buffers cover anterior bolt heads for increased public safety. Pictured at top center.
- Mehler P22 Ballistik Pro Anti-Riot Shield: offers protection from riot projectiles and some ballistic threats. Comes with a 40x40cm (16x16 inches) NIJ Level IIIA rated HPPE ballistic plate. Also comes with a vacuum formed arm rest. Pictured at top right.
riot shield lighting
While commonly used on ballistic shields, lighting on riot shields is proving to be effective as a harmless force multiplier. Riots can happen at any time, which means dark and low light situations are commonplace and can make situations more complex. As we’ve mentioned earlier in this article, rioters do try to pry shields away from officers. As a result, lighting (or other features) should not be added to the front of the shield for fear that it will be removed and used against the officer.
Because riot shields are transparent, lighting can be mounted to the inside of the shield and still pass light through. In up close or low light applications, a bright light is disturbing to rioters and limits their ability to move as quickly towards officers.
The light can be used in two ways to de-escalate behavior in a non-lethal manner:
- Constant light output: continuous lighting enables the officer to see what's in the immediate vicinity and potentially see hazards sooner. It can also be turned on when needed to serve as a deterrent to protesters getting too close to officers.
- Strobe: useful for disorientation. Strobing light can temporarily blind an attacker, which stops them and gives the officer time to prepare for the next attack.
A lighting tool like the FoxFury Taker R40 Shield Light can provide a powerful non-lethal tactical advantage for officers.
foxfury taker shield lights
Taker Shield Lights are designed for a variety of riot and ballistic shields. These lights were designed to provide officers with panoramic lighting for immediate situation assessment to see and respond faster. Taker Shield Lights are waterproof and extremely durable so you can protect yourself, protect your team, and get the job done. Check out a breakdown of the Taker Series by clicking the button below.
These are some of the top riot shield manufacturers (listed alphabetically) who have a proven reputation and experience in public safety and defense.
NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list. We are intentionally not listing manufacturers from Wish.com or Alibaba as these companies are not always established with sufficient testing and accurate claims.
The following resources provided insight that helped compile this article.