By Larry Berstein
For most adults, the question of what to wear is something they must answer every morning. For those who serve as police officers, clothing decisions are made by others. The decisions of what uniform police officers wear can come down to a variety of factors. These factors include perception, comfort, endurance, budgetary restraints and fashion. The old adage “the clothes make the man” (and woman), which is drawn from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is particularly true for police officers.
After all, police officers represent the area they are patrolling and expect to be respected. When dressed properly, that respect will be more forthcoming. Therefore, getting new uniforms is a major decision for a police force.
There are many reasons a department decides to upgrade its uniforms. Budgets become available, styles demand it, performance requirements of apparel change, and more. Here is a look at law enforcement agencies that adopted new uniforms in the past year and the reasons they cite.
Princess Anne Police Department
In the spring of 2016, the Princess Anne Police Department bought new uniforms. Princess Anne, which is located on the Southeastern shore of Maryland, has a population of nearly 3,500 people. Timothy Bozman has been with the Princess Anne Police Department for 15 years. Since April of 2015, Bozman has been the chief of police. The department’s uniforms were from Baltimore City and were received back in 1999. Some of the uniforms were surplus while others were unused. Besides the fact that some of the uniforms were ill-fitting and had some age to them, the department was running low on pants sizes.
There was a clear need for uniforms, but the money was not in the budget. Then, a drug seizure resulted in a sizable amount of money for the department. Chief Bozman asked the officers in the department what they wanted to do with the money, and they said get new uniforms. “We would not have been able to buy new uniforms without the drug seizure funds. Without those funds, we would have still been in the uniforms we were in before,” says Chief Bozman.
By the way, they paid it forward by helping out a fellow police force. The previous leftover uniforms were sent to a small police department in Florida. The new chief there is trying to increase manpower, but didn’t have the uniforms to do it. Now, thanks to the ripple effect, both departments are reaping the benefit of the seized drug money.
East Liverpool Police Department
John Lane is the chief of police in East Liverpool, Ohio. Located along the Ohio River and bordering both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, East Liverpool has a population of more than 11,000.
The East Liverpool Police Department got new uniforms in the spring of 2016 – the first time since the 1960s. According to Chief Lane, “The guys wanted to change.” The chief also notes that replacing shirts became a problem because “We were the only department wearing that particular color.” Shirts were being dyed in order to match the rest of the uniform. Another issue was the vest, which did not match the rest of the uniform. The new uniform program helped unify the colors and updated the cohesiveness of the entire uniform.
Toledo Police Department
Steven Lamb is a staff sargent for the Toledo, Ohio, Police Department. The city lies at the western end of Lake Erie, borders Michigan and has a population of nearly 300,000. Staff Sargent Lamb, who has been with the Toledo Police Department for 20 years and has been in charge of uniforms and other duties for the past six years, was tasked with ordering uniforms for the department. The Toledo Police Department got the new uniforms in the spring of 2016. Prior to the change, the department was wearing multiple separate uniforms. “We went through an administration change, and the new chief wanted everything to match,” says Staff Sargent Lamb.
Ottumwa Police Department
Chad Farrington has been with the Ottumwa Police Department since 1998, and a Patrol Division Commander since 2011. He supervises sergeants and patrol officers. Ottumwa, Iowa, is a town of approximately 25,000 people, and it is located in southeastern Iowa. The Des Moines River splits Ottumwa in two as it runs through the town.
The Ottumwa Police Department got new summer uniforms in 2016. Officers are permitted to wear their summer uniforms from June 1st through September 1st and when the weather is unseasonably warm. According to Division Commander Farrington, there were some upfront costs for the new uniforms, but they were budgeted and approved. Replacing the uniforms was part of the revolving costs a department faces.
The major change in the uniform is the color. Previously officers wore a yellow shirt but, because manufacturers regularly change the color palette, it became nearly impossible to replace the shirts, leaving officers wearing different shades of yellow. Division Commander Farrington says, “One driving force for going with black shirts is there is not much variance in terms of color from manufacturer to manufacturer. We knew someday if we wanted to change and go with a different manufacturer, black would be found and matched.”
Reaction of Department and Public
New uniforms can be a positive action for a police department’s morale. Chief Bozman says the officers in his department love the new uniforms. “Red the Uniform Tailor came in and measured the officers, so the uniforms are measured to fit,” says Bozman. He says the officers appreciated the service and find the new uniforms much more comfortable and stylish.
Division Commander Farrington notes that officers on patrol wore the new summer uniform as soon as they had the opportunity. The uniforms were selected with officer comfort in mind. According to Division Commander Farrington, summers in Ottumwa can be oppressive with high humidity. The new shirt has a different material which allows for better breathability and is thinner. The pant is a lighter color, khaki. “Officers appreciate the new uniform because it gives them one less thing to worry about. When they get back to the station, they are not melting, which helps them to concentrate on their other duties,” says Division Commander Farrington.
The new uniforms impact the public as well as the police. Staff Sargent Lamb says he has received unsolicited feedback from the community – all of it very positive. “They like the look of the shirt. It always looks pressed, which gives us a nice professional image,” says Lamb.
Support has also come from the citizens of Ottumwa according to Division Commander Farrington. Prior to implementing the new uniforms, the police department notified the public. They did this by having photos of officers in uniform placed around town, on their website and on television. The pictures included one of the school resource officers as well as some biographical information about him. “We did this to let them know this is who we are and to not be alarmed if they see a new uniform,” says Farrington.
Chief Lane picked the uniform with the public in mind. The reaction has been as he hoped: everybody who has come up to him in public has liked the change. For safety reasons, Chief Lane wants his officers wearing their bulletproof vest and vest cover on the outside. However, his concern was this would give the officers a tactical appearance. Chief Lane says, “I didn’t want to appear too militarized. Some people have a negative perception of the police, and this would inflame tensions.” With the new uniforms, most people don’t even realize officers are wearing their vests on the outside. The focus, instead, is on the nice collared shirt which projects a good image to the public.
Both the town administration and the community at large have had a positive reaction to the new uniforms of the Princess Anne Police Department, according to Chief Bozman. The uniforms, which are unique for the area, create a more professional image. “When I took over as chief, one of my goals was to improve community relations. The new uniforms have helped in that regard.” When the department unveiled the uniforms, they had chaplains come in and bless the uniforms. Bozman feels the ceremony was part of his goal of changing the department’s image. “We want the community to know that we are here for them and we are reaching out to help them,” says Bozman.
According to Farrington, the Ottumwa Police Department has had a warm weather uniform for six years. The uniforms they selected in 2016 are the same style. The difference is the colors. Previously, officers wore a black 5.11 Tactical Pro Pant. Now, the officers of the Ottumwa Police Department wear khaki pants. Farrington says, “The main reason is the black uniform starts to fade. The khaki is already light colored and will maintain its original color for longer.” As noted above, the new shirts have better breathability and are thinner. They allow perspiration to evaporate as opposed to the traditional Blauer shirt, which the Ottumwa Police Department wears during the rest of the year.
When looking to purchase new uniforms, the Toledo Police Department considered cost and technology according to Staff Sargent Lamb. The department did wear tests and ultimately decided on the Blauer external cover and Elbeco Class A shirts. However, when there is a need to wear the external vest, officers wear the Blauer-based Under-Armour-type shirt, which Lamb says helps keep officers dry and cool. Lamb also praised the ballistic vest for its many options. It was the only one they saw that has a side zipper rather than Velcro, which makes it less convenient to put on but harder to take off. “It’s a safety issue. If officers are wrestling with someone, the vests do not come off,” says Lamb.
Chief Lane was also concerned about the vest when purchasing new uniforms for his department. The policy of the East Liverpool Police Department is to wear the vest at all times when out on the streets. With the previous uniform, wearing the vest on the outside was not an option, and it did not come off easily. Therefore, officers often neglected to wear the vest as they could not cool down. Lane says, “With the new uniform, officers can wear the vest on the outside, and it’s easier to take it on and off. So, the officers are wearing the vests more regularly.”
Picking new uniforms for the Princess Anne Police Department was a simple and straightforward task for Chief Bozman. While at a conference for Maryland police chiefs, Bozman saw a display of various uniforms. One particular uniform scheme caught his attention. After putting it to a vote from the officers, they unanimously selected the color that caught Bozman’s eye – gunmetal grey. The uniform includes black pants with a gunmetal grey line running up the pant and a gunmetal grey shirt. Bozman says, “The uniform looked sharp and stood out.”
With the new uniforms the above-noted departments purchased last year, many positive changes have come. These changes include a boost in morale, improved safety and better community relations. Ultimately, the new uniforms are helping officers be more effective at their job. The clothes really do make the man and woman.