Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Hot and sweaty or fast and cool

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 13, 2011 at 10:19 am with 12 Comments »
March 14, 2014 7:49 am

In a letter to the editor (6-9), Mr. Lawrence Smith of U.P. vented his frustration at police officers for, among other complaints, our move towards military-style uniforms. His letter drew several online responses both for and against his viewpoint.

This may seem like a small matter in a world that is daily filled with momentous events, but it actually reminded me of a quote from one of the most famous protagonists in American literature, Atticus Finch.

In case you’ve forgotten, Finch was the stoic and principled lawyer in Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, in which he told his daughter, Scout,”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

That particular quote has resonated with me since I first read it as a high school freshman, and I can think of few better edicts for people in my line of work. From that standpoint, I have two thoughts regarding Mr. Smith’s comments.

In 1989 I put aside the  uniform that I wore as an officer in the USAF Reserves – Class A’s made from polyester and cotton, flight suit made of nomex – and donned the dark blue wool of a police officer. I found it a strange transition, given that police work involved physical exertion in a range of bizarre locations:  foot chases through muddy fields, wrestling matches in apartments strewn with disgusting trash, delicate walks through oil and blood-stained car crashes. Such are the routine parts of a cop’s life.

On countless occasions, I cursed that wool uniform. Bathed in perspiration, caked with who knew what, smelling like a dog after a rainstorm. I welcome  Mr. Smith to walk a mile in those sweaty shoes.

In the last ten years, casual has become the new black. Along with the rest of mainstream society, police agencies have slowly shifted to more comfortable uniforms. Largely because of local companies like Bratwear (the Fife-based company which pioneered the police jumpsuit), many Pierce County agencies have adopted a uniform more fitted to the rigors of law enforcement.

Yet I understand Mr. Smith’s concern. His negative perception of these newly clad cops is a factor that should not be ignored.  The outward appearance of police officers is important, because the tactical and comfort issues must be balanced against the necessity to appear professional.

Since a return to wearing wool on the job is, in my humble opinion, a bad idea, cops must do a better job of acclimating the public to our new look. Public perception is important.

But protecting the public trumps all, and when you’re itchy and sweaty, it’s a lot harder to do the job.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. A policeman’s uniform must meet very specific guidelines.

    1. It must be (wait for it) uniform. It has to be able to accommodate all body shapes and sizes.
    2. It must be recognizable as representing an official agency, with clear markings, insignia, badges, etc.
    3. It must be utilitarian. It must serve functionally, and provide the appropriate places to hold “things” needed in the day to day business while not appearing cluttered or have places that can snag or rattle around.
    4. It must be easy to clean and comfortable in adverse weather but not look rumpled or wrinkle easily. it also would need to be able to stand up to above average wear and tear.
    5. It must be able to be both immediately recognizable as a police uniform, yet not be so outlandish that it both makes the cop look like a clown and provide no tactical disadvantage.
    6. Must be able to accommodate body armor.

    Now, I hate to say it, but it’s impossible to meet all of these considerations and NOT be akin to a military uniform. Gone are the days where the police uniform was more flair over comfort or practicality. Cops don’t wear single breasted suits with shiny buttons and dress shoes on the beat, swinging a baton, carrying a call box key.

  2. “In 2007, the Washington State Patrol was named the best dressed law enforcement agency in the nation by the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors (NAUMD). The judges reviewed each department’s professional appearance and uniform diversity, paying close attention to detail and written standards. They considered many factors to determine which law enforcement agency was the best dressed, including non-traditional WSP uniforms such as Canine, SWAT, and bicycle patrol uniforms.”

    Brian, I think the solution is different uniforms for different seasons and uses.

    http://www.wsp.wa.gov/about/uniforms.htm

  3. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    All of the things Gandalf listed are correct, but #3 is the most important. The fact is, police uniforms of 20-30 years ago or more may have looked more formal, but the environment police work in has changed in that time, and so must their uniforms in order to ensure their safety.

    As I’ve stated in previous comments, I work with law enforcement agencies in Arizona. Most agencies here have moved to a uniform that includes cargo pants and boots (but not bloused) and a polo shirt made of moisture wicking material displaying departmental patches on the sleeves. Over the polo they wear a load-bearing kevlar vest that contains a Camelbak, their radio and TASER. It looks very professional and I’m told it’s much easier to move around in and much more comfortable in 110+ degree heat.

    The exception to that is usually the officers who are on the SWAT team. In most departments, except the really big ones, the SWAT team is not always assembled as a unit. The team is made up of SWAT-qualified officers who carry most of their specialized gear with them while they perform other patrol duties. When the team is called up, each member comes in from the different parts of the city or county where they are working and are expected to be ready to go on arrival. That means that those guys have to wear a tactical uniform for their daily duties. It may not look the most professional, but it’s the price you pay for having an agency with a full-time SWAT team that doesn’t sit around twiddling their thumbs most days waiting for a call.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    I have often teased my trooper friends about their “best dressed” status, but the fact is that few of them like or wear the bow tie or hat except when absolutely necessary. Most would choose the jumpsuit over the wool outfit if given the chance, but their culture hasn’t adapted yet–notice I said yet. As far as having different uniforms, I’m fortunate that the department paid for my single jumpsuit so I don’t see that happening. Money was one of the reasons behind the change.

  5. I’ve seen some sharp looking military uniforms.

  6. smokey984 says:

    Didnt know it got hot enough in Washington nowadays to get itchy and sweaty…and if it does maybe only a few days a year. Its not a surprise to me our nowadays Law Enforcement went to these style of uniforms considering the continued militarization of once public loving Peace Officers.

    Our yesterday Peace Officers looked quite professional and had good social skills back in those itchy and sweaty days…

  7. Smokey, back then you didn’t have gang bangers with Glocks and AK-47s on street corners selling crack. You can wax nostalgic about the “good ol days” where men were expected to wear a suit, tie and hat to work, women stayed at home raising babies and keeping the house spotless. You can also reminisce about gas costing .30 cents a gallon and a pack of lucky strikes were a quarter. Things change. Cops no longer walk a beat with a .38 special revolver, baton and handcuffs, getting cats out of trees and breaking up bar fights.

    Someone, somewhere rightfully decided that practicality is better than looking pretty.

    Oh, and the seattle metro area isn’t the only part or washington where anyone lives. I spent 4 years in Spokane and I can assure you it’s both raging hot and bitterly cold on the other side of the mountains.

  8. BlaineCGarver says:

    **winking and rolling eyes** Actions speak louder than pretty uniforms, and public perception usually trumps police intent. Those carrying weapons and wearing a mask screams target…to me, anyway.

  9. smokey984 says:

    Oh Gandalf, i wish i were thinking of those good old days brother. However im a young late thirties of age.

    The itchy and sweaty thing is a bunch of bs…You wanna know what itchy and sweaty is? Ill tell ya..Just last month i finished my 6th combat deployment to none other than the land of a beautiful country inhabited by an even more beautiful people. Afghanistan. A very small percentile of which we are fighting.

    Now im a big sort of guy, having been born and raised in Tacoma, 6 foot 3, 225 lbs. Combat gear loaded i rang in at 329 lbs. That’s 104 pounds of battle rattle. Have we checked the weather lately in Afghanistan? Today it was 109.

    http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=Kandahar,%20Afghanistan

    You see getting itchy and sweaty gives a man a sense of accomplishment. It actually makes you feel your making a difference within society. It comes from a result of HARD WORK…A man should be proud of being itchy and sweaty. But over the course of the last 40 years or so our society has lost its men to the air conditioned cubicle and 4 cups of coffee and an opinion that would normally come from a lady.

    A man who comes home and smells of work has nothing to be ashamed of…

  10. smokey984 says:

    and to continue..the military style of uniform does not present the right image of our first responders. Public perception, unfortunately, plays a huge role.

  11. Sigh, as a 20 year military vet, I’ve worn the “itchy and sweaty” uniforms you’re pining for. Your opinion is based on nothing compared to the “good old days” of uniforms designed for looks over function and practicality.

    Let me ask you this, should a firefighter wear a uniform that looks pretty, or one that won’t turn the wearer into an instant BBQ? One that provides protection and functionality? If you think pretty isn’t as important, why would you think a cop’s needs are any different?

    Face it, you’re simply projecting your irrational fears of the gestapo on our LEOs.

  12. smokey984 says:

    I’m not facing anything other than the fact that a military style uniform has no place in our society of first responders other than maybe your local swat team. It sends the wrong message. There are plenty of other uniform options of lighter/breathable fabric than a military style pattern/look. The same uniform they are wearing can be made in a different fabric…Maybe we should agree to disagree. Either way no worries…

    and im simply not aware of these irrational fears you speak of…Please explain.

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