While many types of ballistic shields exist, they are primarily used by patrol officers or SWAT members when approaching high powered handgun, shotgun or sub-machinegun threats. Most models of shields offer a portable, lightweight defense system for added cover during criminal encounters. Extremely lightweight shields allow the user maintain use of their weaponry while employing the shield.

Modern ballistic shields are examined against the U.S. government ballistic protection rating standard, NIJ-Std 0108.01. They typically rate Threat Level Type IIIA protection. This rigorous ballistic test impacts the armor in the free standing position, requiring multiple ballistic impacts when tested to simulate being carried in front of the officer without any backing material in direct contact with the rear surface of the ballistic shield.