What is a Riot Shield?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2020
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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.


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