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.