Riot Shield Guide: Part 2 [Weight, Sizes, and Styles]

Weight

Riot shields require a compact and mobile design. As a result, most riot shields 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 - 14 lbs (2.7 - 6.5 kg), while most circular shields weigh around 4 - 5 lbs (1.8 - 2.3 kg).

Size, Shape and 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, generally covering 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.

Riot police in Hong Kong near a fire set off by protestors

Most riot shields are flat or concave (curves inward) to deflect projectiles, liquids, and other hazards. Some capture shields are convex (curve outward). These help an officer or agent pin an aggressor against a wall 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.

Paulson convex shields used for corrections

Finally, there are hybrid shields like the EXS-B02 pictured below. These have a bubble design that curves outwards. This design prevents thrown liquids from hitting the officer.

This is also a heavy-duty “bubble” riot shield used for aggressive riot operations. The outward-facing bubble allows the user to move freely behind it during anti-riot operations with aggressive protestors.

Police using bubble riot shields

Learn about Ballistic Shields

Color and 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 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. 

Riot police in Honduras using a variety of shields (Photo Credit: Reuters, Jorge Cabrera)

Select shield models can be customized with ID labels or nameplates on the front that identifies the agency like Police, Corrections, Security, and Sheriff. This helps identify 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 covering any outward-facing bolt heads help minimize damage and pain if a shield hits someone.

Handle

Riot shields need to be lightweight and comfortable to hold and operate for extended periods. The officer needs to quickly adjust the shield angle and easily block or deflect the threat as well as possible. Also, the officer needs to be able to position the shield to move forward or backward or even run if needed.

Handle design is of tremendous value in making all this possible. There is a fantastic resource on CorrectionsOne that gives information on shield handles. A couple of key handle design points from that article are listed below:

  • 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 carrying positions. Velcro Strapping Systems are strongly recommended!

Some handle types include: 

  • Tri-Grip (or triangular ambidextrous) handle for different carry methods
  • The 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 to hold the shield in two places; by the hand and around the arm. These are ambidextrous designs that work with either hand through 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's 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) to 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.

Additional Sections

Thanks to Tracey Willmott, Mario Cugini, Phillip Spencer and Chris Sfedu for their assistance.

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