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Stretching Your Uniform Budget

Agencies can acquire uniforms on the cheap with a little bit of work and ingenuity.

May 15, 2012  |  by John Milstead

Photo: iStockphoto.com
Photo: iStockphoto.com

I have been called a "scrounger" and other similar names by officers and various administrators at departments where I've worked. But I don't mind being known as thrifty if it helps my fellow officers maintain a professional appearance.

Whether they realize it or not, people tend to judge the quality of a department and its personnel based on the appearance of their uniforms. It costs a lot of money to purchase pants, shirts, and outerwear for every officer, but I've found some tricks smaller agencies can use for acquiring these items without breaking the bank.

You see, for various reasons, larger departments end up with surplus uniforms occupying precious storage space. Over the years, I have made a point of getting to know and work with the people in larger departments who are responsible for supplying uniforms and equipment to their officers to make use of that excess.

When larger departments have annual uniform replacement programs, officers routinely turn in coats, jackets, and raincoats that have only seen "trunk wear," meaning they lay in the car trunk and were only worn on occasion. Officers are provided new replacements annually when turning in these "used" items. Many larger departments also have numerous uniform contracts that change from year to year. Sometimes when this occurs, the department cleans house of existing uniforms due to differences in style, dye lots, etc., between the old and new uniforms.

Retirements, promotions, and weight gain also provide a steady supply of gently used uniforms as well as leather and nylon equipment. Many departments discard these items rather than re-issue them. Believe it or not, some union contracts prohibit the reissuing of uniforms to officers even if the uniforms turned in are still in packages or have tags on them.

Uniforms that are unneeded for any of these reasons are usually available to other smaller departments and agencies. You just need to contact the department's command, request the surplus, and show a justified need for them. In my experience, larger departments are happy to pass these uniforms on to other officers. It helps them make space for other items and they can designate it as a community benefit or tax write-off.

You may not know this, but some departments in larger cities actually donate their gently used uniforms to homeless shelters and developing countries. Why? Because no one in law enforcement had the gumption to ask for them.

Surplus uniforms might be free, but procuring them takes some work. First, make yourself available to immediately respond and pick up any requested uniforms and equipment when notified by a larger department. By doing this and taking everything you're offered, you will make friends with the person responsible for running the agency’s uniform department. He or she will remember this when more become available later. You will also be remembered in the event that other non-uniform equipment may need a new home when it is replaced by newer models.

Tags: Uniforms, Patrol Resources


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Craig Andersen @ 5/31/2012 9:21 PM

My former department used to keep a uniform "grab bag" similar to what you described. We also used it to uniform and equip the reserve deputies.

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