Cops Are Dressing Down. Is That OK?

November 15, 2019

Officers nationwide weigh in…

In his recent article, “Is your uniform putting you at risk?” Calibre columnist Dave Grossi shared concerns about a trend of moving away from “traditional” uniforms in favor of more relaxed versions. Officers from across the country quickly responded and the majority agreed with his concerns.

Here is a small sample of what some fellow officers shared:


Sgt. Damon Greathouse with Lancaster City (PA) Police writes:

“Dave, you are spot on. When I started my career in the mid-90’s I wore leather gear, a police hat and pinned my badge on my uniform shirt every day. Now our department has taken, in my view, a very liberal, soft stance toward uniforms; exterior vest carriers, baseball hats, embroidered badges, polo shirts, tactical pants, and canvas boots. We look like overpaid mall cops.

“I refuse to wear the exterior vest, still don my crush cap on most calls and shine my boots when they get dirty. I stress the importance of looking like a cop and making sure our young officers look and behave in a professional manner.

“I sent your article to my entire shift.  Thanks for the perspective.”


Lt. Warren J. O’Brien, Operations Commander & Executive Officer with Boxborough (MA) PD responds:

“You are right on the money with your uniform commentary.  I truly believe in the need for command presence.  Your uniform is the first thing an officer displays when arriving at a scene.  Somewhere along the line, the pride of appearance seems to have taken a back seat to comfort.  Younger officers in my agency are always looking to ‘dress down’ and I expect that modifications will be made to our uniform policy to allow for a less traditional look.

“I’ve been at this for 36 years so I’m a dinosaur, but I still feel that the uniform represents who we are and what we do. I hate seeing it watered down.”


Lt. Carl Crisp (ret.), formerly with La Porte (TX) PD shares:

“I retired in 2007 and the trend toward “comfortable” uniforms was starting then. The guys wanted to wear shorts (not just for bike patrol) for comfort. I argued that no one has ever died or been seriously injured because they were wearing trousers, so I voted “NO.” Plus, some folks just look bad in shorts.

“Now, I see the relaxed clothing trend continuing. I also notice that male officers are wearing beards in uniform. This trend toward “civilianizing” uniforms may indeed lead to dangerous confusion. I also believe it takes away from the image we should project…that of bearing command.

“You want respect? Look respectable.”


From Officer Franklin Marino, Secretary for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association:

“I don’t see anything wrong with patrol officers wearing softer looking uniforms as long as they’re readily identifiable and they maintain their tactical edge. The police continue to evolve over time.

“When I started my career in 1994, I wore a traditional polyester uniform with metal badge and nameplate and once out of the academy, I quickly transitioned from the typical “parade belt” to one with an expandable baton, two sets of handcuffs and my duty weapon, spare magazine case, pepper spray, and radio.  I eventually removed the expandable and went to a side handle baton, added two flashlights and a Taser and I have had that configuration for over 15 years.

“I never wore low quarter or athletic type shoes. I always wore boots.  Eventually, I decided on our optional patrol utility uniform; a polo shirt with a cloth badge and my name embroidered on the right side of the shirt and BDUs or lightweight bicycle pants reminiscent of the parachute pants I wore in the 1980s. Policy mandated that you had to wear a vest with that uniform, whereas it was optional with our Class C patrol uniform.

“One of the arguments used to promote the patrol utility uniform was that it ‘softened our look’ and ‘made us more approachable’ even though we still carried guns, Tasers and everything else.

“As time passed, we allowed our patrol officers to wear an outer vest carrier with the utility uniform and move their taser and radio to the vest.  We’ve all heard the “this looks too tactical” or “too militaristic” comments about BDU/5.11 tactical-style pants and outer vest carriers with minimal items carried on the gun belt. However, you have agencies like the New Jersey (my home state) Massachusetts, and Rhode Island State Police who all wear very traditional uniforms and headgear which, one can argue, look more military than most current patrol uniforms with a metal badge and nameplate.”


Officer Fred Romero (Ret.) from LAPD writes:

“I’m a retired ‘old school’ LAPD cop who served as an FTO and Academy Firearms Instructor. I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding the new trend in the LEO profession to look TV hip and cool.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this recent uniform culture is a direct offshoot from what working cops see portrayed on TV and in movies.

“Consciously or not, it appears that a significant number of new breed cops are trying to emulate what Hollywood has determined is the new hip “cop look.”  In my mind, it’s a generational thing. Back in the day when Dragnet was the top cop show we all wanted to look like what we saw on TV. Now, all the modern police TV programs depict street cops and detectives as being young, trendy and hip, especially when it comes to appearance.

“Not sure how we can change this ‘new and improved’ identity issue, but you are correct in your assessment that it may be a concern when modern cops don’t look like cops anymore. The trend toward more relaxed uniforms could be used against officers in court after an arrest, or even worse after a shooting, when the defense will be that the police didn’t look like the police.”

Security Officer 1 James Conquest from Fresno Co. (CA) comments:

“You are totally on point with this article! Maybe some of the top cops will see this piece and think about the way their officers are looking nowadays.

“I believe the traditional uniform as we know it definitely reflects command presence, which is one of the important use-of-force elements. I think many agencies are converting to the casual uniform for a softer, gentler approach to the public, but the officers look like football coaches rather than law enforcement officers.

“I can totally see where a ‘relaxed’ uniform could be used in court against an officer and agency. It’s not professional and has diminished the pride one takes in the uniform. I feel the dress uniform is impressive because it not only clearly identifies the officer and his agency but also displays his or her awards and time in service marks. It’s also a visible deterrent to would-be criminals.


Patrolman Allan Ludi (ret.) from Albuquerque (NM) PD writes:

“Our department has gone totally casual; BDUs, sneakers, polo shirts, etc.  Just as described in the article.  If I were approached by someone dressed like that, I’d be thinking: Who am I speaking with??? I want to see your credentials, not just a badge sewn on a shirt.”


And finally, Sgt. Stephen Craig from California writes:

“I’m assigned to day patrol in a mid-sized California city. Currently, we authorize several styles of patrol uniforms divided into classes. All of them consist of dark navy-blue shirts and pants with shoulder patches, metal badge, nameplate, and Sam Brown style leather or leather-like duty belts. We also only wear black boots ‘capable of being polished.’

“Class A is wool long sleeve shirt, tie, trousers, round cap with hat badge, and highly polished leather gear and boots.

“Class B is essentially the same uniform in short or long sleeve minus the tie and cap.

“Class C is a dark navy ripstop poly-cotton uniform with cargo pockets. An external dark navy external vest carrier is optional.

“Excluding special events and ceremonies, all of these uniforms are at the officer’s discretion. Our detectives normally wear suits but can wear black polos and tan pants for search warrants or dirty duties.

“For normal patrol operations, I agree that officers should be in a monochromatic, matching uniform. However, I think the ‘traditional’ uniform is greatly outdated and impractical for day-to-day patrol. It’s almost impossible to adequately clean blood and other fluids out of wool and leather. Most synthetic materials are much easier to clean and more affordable if worn or contaminated items need to be replaced.

“As far as the old, ‘I didn’t know it was the police’ defense goes, there are a few things that come to mind.

“First, the only thing that has been a constant about police uniforms historically is that they consisted of some sort of shirt, pants, and belt. Everything else about the uniform including colors, materials, etc. has changed over the years. If a defense or plaintiff’s attorney showed a photo of a police officer from the 1980s, it would look different from an officer from the 1880s. Throughout US law enforcement history, our uniform changes have largely mirrored military uniforms. The tan boots are largely a reflection of that change.

“A much greater issue, in my opinion, are departments adopting ‘special’ patches to ‘raise awareness.’ An example would be allowing officers to wear puzzle patches in April and pink patches in October. Many departments also sell these ‘special’ patches to the general public. This creates the very real concern that we could be helping someone impersonate an officer.

“Last, I’ve had suspects claim this ‘I didn’t know it was the police’ defense when I was wearing a traditional wool uniform so it doesn’t resonate as a viable concern.

“As long as all of the officers are wearing the same type of uniform, reasonable members of the public in that jurisdiction should be able to recognize them as police officers.”

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