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Columns : In My Sights

Dress for Success

A badly designed uniform can be a hazard on the job.

September 01, 2007  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”—Mark Twain

One of our family friends came over the other day. I don’t know when he joined a gang, but his baggy pants, cool bling, and baseball hat turned to one side caught me by surprise. “Whad-up?” he said, and I wondered what indeed was up with this well-raised son of hard-working parents?

Yeah, I know, times and fashion change. I actually wore leisure suits way back when. Yep, the ’70s was a time of cool fashion. Cool even when it came to my first police uniform.

Tucson Police Department had a classy but oddly untactical uniform. We had blue wool pants, always in fashion in the Sonoran Desert, and a white shirt. Yep, white. Add to that shiny things such as nametags and badges and brass snaps and a really, really shiny badge dead center on the front of our mandatory, though blue, caps, and we were really visible to the bad guys.

Once, my amigo Sam and I responded to a silent alarm at an office center. When I carefully pulled on the door, much to my surprise it swung open!

Since the K-9 units were in training, we made our crossover into the building. There is a certain rush one feels entering through the “fatal funnel” of a doorway, especially as the number two person. Over and over in my head I heard our survival trainer saying, “They always get the second guy if they are going to shoot!”

Once inside, we carefully deployed our flashlights, turning them on to search the blackness . Soon, I began to notice when my light was off and I was moving that I could clearly see the ghost-lit upper torso of my partner. Damn, I wondered if we should have popped a flashbulb first to blind the dirtbag who might have waited inside.

Once we cleared the call, we griped about the way we glowed in the damn dark. So we got with JW and Charlie and Morty and decided to alter our uniforms. We were certain we could get away with it since we were on permanent midnights and, besides, if they caught us, what were they going to do? Put us on permanent graveyards?

We all bought Navy watch caps and took our badges off our Ike jackets, which we would then put on before doing any high-risk activity. We had ninja’d ourselves up! This went great for several weeks until the watch commander arrived at a scene unannounced.

Sgt. Monk took most of the heat since he had allowed us to desecrate the Tucson PD’s brilliant (in many ways) uniform and we went back to our traditional high-risk uniforms, careers intact but egos bruised.

Over my many years, I have seen some great and some bad uniforms from the tactical standpoint. I like formal uniforms for formal occasions and believe a well-dressed person can make a difference.

When that difference is catching a felon bent on wrongdoing, I think we need to make sure our uniforms are tactically sound. And speaking of sound, put on your uniform and jump up and down. How much noise do you make?

I can’t tell you to change your uniform on your own as a crazy bunch of crime fighters did back in ’75, but you can become your agency’s champion for safe uniforms. There are times that you want to be seen and times that you don’t. Your uniform should give you that flexibility.

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

meddiver112 @ 9/28/2007 3:30 PM

Columbus, Ohio PD also wears white shirts and hats. I was told that they are "no more visible than any other color." I had an opportunity to ride along when I attended a week long Homicide Seminar years ago, and quickly found that claim false. As we responded to assist on a foot pursuit, I was picking out my partner's fellow officers from blocks away. I must admit, when I ended up chasing the suspect (gun out, in plain clothes and known only to my partner somewhere behind me and his SGT., I was relieved to see a "wall of white shirts" converging in all directions.

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