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What is a Riot Shield?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 16, 2024

A riot shield is a piece of protective equipment for law enforcement and military who want additional body coverage to repel thrown objects, shrapnel, and other hazards. Riot shields are also a useful crowd and riot control tool, as people can move into formation to create an effective wall to push back at crowds or prevent people from breaking out of a crowd. Numerous companies manufacture riot shields, and some may hold contracts for specific police forces and militaries.

The classic riot shield is a full body shield, although sometimes people use smaller partial shields to cover their torsos and little else. It is lightweight enough for people to hold it comfortably with one arm, using bars or straps on the back of the riot shield to hold it up while keeping the other hand free. Many are clear or have a viewing window to allow people to see clearly so they can adjust their shield positioning. Lightweight plastics are a favored construction material, although some companies use metal.

Typically, the shield is curved, with the body of the law enforcement officer fitting into the shield, although some have a reversed design when the scoop faces outward. Some have ballistic ratings and can resist low velocity gunfire and other projectiles. Others are useful primarily for deflecting objects like stones, bricks, and bottles that might be thrown by members of the crowd. The riot shield typically has police or military insignia.

Law enforcement officers can form a line with riot shields to create a barrier, making it difficult for people to break through. They may use this tactic when protecting dignitaries or keeping a crowd in a designated area. It can also be useful in mass arrests, where the line of riot shields keeps the crowd under control so arresting officers can do their work. Police also use shields to break protest lines and penetrate crowds, using the v-shaped “flying wedge” formation. This wedge allows them to force their way in, using shields as protection, so they can disperse a crowd.

Police officers receive riot shield training so they know how to use shields safely and appropriately. They will also learn about how to use weapons while handling a riot shield so they can handle night sticks, fire arms, tear gas canisters, and other tools effectively while controlling a shield with the other arm. Policing tactics vary between nations and most use specific formations and techniques and train their officers in how to perform them.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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