You've been through it time and time again: a wreck on a night highway, congested traffic, glass and debris everywhere, an ambulance idles next to an overturned vehicle sidelined near the divider. You start to think to yourself, "How could this shift get any worse?" And the heavens answer with a torrent of rain. But you can't seek shelter. You've got a job to do.
Caught without the proper outerwear, this could be an even more miserable situation, but if you're prepared with the latest in foul-weather police gear then you'll at least be dry.
To find out more about the duck-like performance of the latest law enforcement raingear, Police talked to the experts: the officers who work some of the rainiest beats in America. What we learned is that, from the forests of the Northwest to the hurricane alleys of the Florida coast, raingear is essential equipment for the protection and comfort of police officers.
Off a Duck's Back
Most of the officers we talked to have made peace with their soggy climes. But they also realize that getting wet and staying wet in the field can be really bad for your health.
Yes, April showers do bring May flowers, but they also can bring muscle spasms and soreness, sick time and, of course, down time. Some agencies comb the outerwear market for raingear that protects their officers, especially motorcycle and traffic officers. Other agencies leave raingear purchases up to the personal preferences of their officers and supply them with allowances for the purchase of jackets, coats, and slickers.
Because of their ability to move through traffic snarls, motorcycle officers are often the first to arrive at an accident scene and sometimes the last to leave. As such, these officers must always be prepared for the worst in weather conditions.
Motorcycle cop Sgt. Greg White of the Portland (Ore.) Police Department says that finding a good jacket is half the battle. But good doesn't necessarily mean "heavy." White opts for a lightweight jacket that's attainable at a moment's notice.
"In Portland it will rain and stop, and then it will start raining again when you least expect it," says White. "When it's cloudy all day, you just don't know when it's going to rain. So you put your jacket on and take it off, put it on and take it off."
In contrast to the mists and cold squalls of Portland, storms in tropical South Florida tend to be fierce-and in hurricane season, long-lived. Consequently, officers need lightweight long coats that will protect their lower bodies from the blowing rain.
Herminia Salas-Jackobson, an officer with the Miami Police Department, swears by her three-quarter-length raincoat. "When we have our rainy season, it really gets out of control," she says. "So during those times, the raincoats are very effective because sometimes you have the rain and the wind. My jacket covers the length of my uniform."
Officer Joe Barrett of the Jackson (Miss.) Police Department's Training Division adds that officers are conditioned to withstand most weather conditions during their training. "During academy training we sometimes train in the rain," says Barrett. We don't reschedule just because it's raining." However, Barrett is quick to agree with White and Salas-Jackobson that a good jacket or coat can make all the difference in a nasty storm.
But what exactly is a good jacket?
Stout, Inside and Out
Officers experience a wide range of weather conditions and require an array of outerwear that can take everything Mother Nature dishes out. But raingear is not a one-size or one-style fits all garment. For example, a jacket that works well in Southern California will most likely be ineffective in the freezing rains of a late fall day in Pennsylvania.
Another concern for many officers is portability. Motorcycle officer White says he needs rainwear that is resilient and can withstand lots of folding and tucking and stuffing into his bike's storage compartments.[PAGEBREAK]
"Our jackets can be rolled into a small pack to fit into our saddle bags, so you don't have to wear them all the time," White says. "But when you get stuck out there, you just pull it out. It takes you about a minute to put everything on and you're immediately dry. It has saved us many times."
Whether it's a jacket with detachable sleeves or a reversible that breathes, whether it's windproof or waterproof, there is a raincoat or jacket out there for almost every officer.
Blauer, for example, offers its Defender series, a line of raincoats that feature the durable, waterproof, and breathable B.Dry fabric lining. The coats are trimmed in Scotchlite high-contrast reflective material and are sized from 30 inches to 49 inches. The Defender series comes in a variety of colors, including black, fluorescent yellow, black with fluorescent orange, and black with fluorescent yellow. Pit and side zippers provide ventilation and access to equipment, while convenient tabs allow officers to attach badges to the fronts of their coats.
The Enforcer jacket by Watershed is also great for rainy days. It features side vents for weapon access, YKK waterproof zippers, hood snaps for optional hoods, fleece-lined collars, and high-angle sleeves for ease of movement. Enforcer jackets are available in two-tone or camouflage and come in nine different colors.
With all the technological advances in electronics, weaponry, and surveillance, it shouldn't come as a surprise to find raingear with high-tech features. Here is what the experts say you should consider when shopping for technologically advanced outerwear.
Once upon a time, the best materials for raincoats were heavy and rubberized. Now, fortunately, there are a variety of lightweight materials that add all-weather function to quality outerwear. For example, Gore-Tex is a water- and windproof, breathable fabric that's featured in raingear produced by Blauer, Watershed, and other popular makers of police jackets.
Gore-Tex is the best known of the high-tech all-weather materials in today's raingear, but there are other fabrics that offer similar protection and more warmth. For example, Gerber Outerwear lines its coats with Polartec Fleece and Elbeco's outerwear is lined with Thinsulate, a type of thermal insulation that provides warmth but without the unnecessary bulk of heavy coats.
For water repellency and overall comfort, Gerber combines cotton-soft Supplex, Supplex Supreme, Cordura, and Hammock Cloth materials to create durable water-repellent rainwear.
Also, for police gear, fashion and even comfort take a back seat to function. That's why some police jackets feature fabrics like Scotchlight that reflect light back to its source and help to increase an officer's night visibility. It's also why some police raingear such as jackets by Pacific Safety Products have liners constructed of flame-resistant Nomex.
Look for these high-tech fabrics in your outerwear and you're almost guaranteed the best in comfort, durability, and all-weather performance. They're not a cup of strong coffee or a warm fireplace, but they can be the next best thing when dealing with stormy weather.