Blue-Green Police Uniforms
Blue-Green Uniforms for Police
Recently, there has been considerable whining and bed-wetting about the appearance of police officers and whether they look too military. Most of those complaining have not realized that it is the conduct and behaviour of our police that is more important.
That having been said, there is some evidence that how an officer is dressed not only influences how people interact with them, but also their own conduct.
This article started when I was reading “The Long Utopia” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. In this novel, “the Arbiters” are described as wearing green uniforms. In my mind’s eye I saw this as a light pastel-green shade. This was a good contrast to the safety-orange worn by the workers they policed, and happened to be a soothing colour well suited to keepers-of-the-peace.
Culturally, I am conditioned to think of police as “boys in blue”. Intellectually, I am well aware many police forces use other colours, and a number of forces across Europe and Asia use or have used green. Many American police or sheriff departments use khaki, often in combination with green.
This all reminded me of the following interesting article on The Psychological Influence of the Police Uniform.
One of the key points here is that the all-black or dark-blue uniforms used by many police departments cause the officer to be perceived negatively as less friendly (less approachable) and colder in personality, when compared to a uniform that used a lighter (khaki) shirt.
Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that an officer who was regarded as somewhat aloof was preferable to the sort of passive officer who turns a blind-eye to anti-social acts because they are scared someone will bleat “discrimination!”.
However, the evidence also suggest that darkly clad offers have a tendency to be more negative and unnecessarily aggressive in their interactions.
The Origin of Boys in Blue
Here, I will attempt to put the dark blue police uniform in some historical context.
In 1853, when the first uniformed police force was created in the UK, a dark blue uniform was chosen to disassociate officers from British soldiers, specifically the red-coated infantry. Redcoats were associated with executing the Riot Act, and in those days it was not uncommon for off-duty soldiers to wear their red uniforms in public.
When the first uniformed police force was created in America, dark-blue was also chosen. This choice may have been influenced by the British police uniforms, but in the USA the army also wore dark-blue. The early uniforms may have actually been old army uniforms.
I have long since lost the reference, but I have seen it theorized that early American police uniforms were deliberately given a Prussian, military look. Many citizens of European origin already associated such uniform styles with authority. American police have always been intended to have a military look!
So, we have a similar choice of uniform colour and design made, but with contrasting rationale behind it.
In contrast, the Canadian Mounted Police chose red since the people of the “First Nations” regarded the red uniformed British Army as more trustworthy than the blue-wearing US Army.
Boys (and Girls) in Blue-Green?
As a thought exercise, I decided to consider some features for an alternate police uniform with a better basis in psychological and practical considerations.
I conducted a web-search on “calming colours” and was presented with a number of options. Many of the offerings were blue-green, so I decided to go with a light, greyish blue-green colour that will be referred to in the following paragraphs as “LBG”. A slightly darker, medium shade of this colour will be called “MBG”.
Psychologically, light blue might work, but I feel the blue-green is warmer and more distinctive. Also, light blue clothing such as denim is relatively common.
I will call this new approach to police uniforms the “BG police uniform”.
A diverse variety of uniforms are used in the USA alone. Some that I have seen make the officers look like janitors! Others closely resemble those of postal workers, metro staff or similar.
There are clear advantages to having police officers wear a uniform that is readily and widely recognizable and distinct for other uniforms.
The main resistance to changing police uniforms is due to blind tradition and tribalism, but this is a considerable inertia to overcome. There may be some hope, however. Fire engines were changed from red to lime, after all!
In recent years, there have been moves in Europe to standardize the appearance of police in the various states and nations. Unfortunately, but understandably, many have opted for blue-black for their new uniforms.
The Blue-Green Police Uniform
I recoloured the accompanying image just to give a general impression of what a blue-green uniform may look like. The actual colours used may vary from those shown. Several details of an actual uniform would be different. That shirt needs breast pockets, and cargo trousers are more practical.
Upper Body Uniform
As can be seen, the upper body garment will be LBG. Some police departments use khaki, white or light blue shirts, but this is only a single step in the right direction. Often the light shirt is covered up by a darker outer garment.
For the BG uniform, shirts, pullovers, jackets, coats, overalls and equipment vests will all be in LBG. Some police wear stab-proof vests over their shirts or tunics. Where worn, these too should be LBG.
The only upper garments that will not be LBG are those required to be in high-visibility colours. Some police departments have their more senior ranks wear distinctive white shirts, allowing them to be easily identified. This will be another possible permissible exception to the LBG-only policy.
Neck-ties have no place on a work uniform, especially one that is worn without a jacket.
As a concession, I have given the shirt a darker coloured placket. This is a design feature as yet not widely used by civilian attire, so adds to the distinctiveness of the uniform. This dark central strip may be used on other LBG upper garments, creating a more consistent appearance.
During my research, I discovered some police departments have bow-ties as part of their uniform! This hardly seems conducive to respect or a serious appearance: I’ll take a Vesper, and a Margareta for the lady, please...
Some police departments use shirts with contrasting, usually darker, pocket flaps. I do not think this contributes anything, and it is preferable to keep the upper garment nearly all light-coloured.
Hats and Caps
The hat in this illustration is shown as MBG, but headgear may be LBG or white. The lighter shades will be preferable for hot-weather headgear. White headgear (or white covers for headgear) will be used for traffic cops and other applications where individual visibility is a priority.
The hatband shown has dicing, commonly, but inaccurately, nicknamed Sillitoe “tartan”. I have used black and white dicing for my illustration, but a good argument can be made for using the dark-blue and white pattern used by a number of police departments across the world. Either variation might be used, depending on application. Black and white may be more effective for retro-reflective features on uniforms. Similarly, either two-row or three-row Sillitoe pattern is acceptable, and may vary with application.
As well as being used on the peaked hat, most other police headgear will include a band of Sillitoe pattern.
Light colours are difficult to keep appearing clean, but so too are the deep-blues and blacks many departments use. As a practical concession, I have illustrated the trousers as being a slightly darker, medium shade, MBG.
Cargo trousers would be preferred for work uniforms, with the legs cut with sufficient room that knee and shin pads may be worn beneath if desired. When weather requires a shirtsleeves uniform the extra pocket space of the cargo trousers will be useful for such important items as protective gloves.
Police trousers should have a sap-pocket, for those departments enlightened enough to understand that giving an officer more discreet less-lethal options is a positive thing. Sap-pockets may be useful for carrying other items such as flashlights or kubotan.
Some cargo trousers have a sewn-in crease, which may be desirable.
Sleeve-Stripes and Lampasse
To make the uniform more distinctive, and facilitate the wearer being identifiable as a police officer, the uniform includes lampasse and sleeve-stripes.
In the illustration, both the lampasse and sleeve-stripes are shown as light-blue. Alternately, the sleeve-stripes would be of Sillitoe pattern, making it even clearer that the wearer is a police officer. The sleeve-stripe would be a feature of all uniform sleeved garments, including jackets, coats and overalls.
Specialist officers such as auxiliaries or “Tourist Police” may be distinguished by a different design of hatband, sleeve-stripe and/or lampass.
Other Benefits of the Blue-Green Uniform
The BG police uniform has a number of advantages besides the potential positive psychological effects.
Being a relatively light shade, the BG police uniform should be more comfortable to wear in hot, sunny climates.
Many regions known for their hot weather use the all-black or all-dark-blue police uniforms, which must be less than ideal for officer comfort.
A comfortable uniform means less officer fatigue and stress, and probably keeps the wearer in a better mood.
Black-appearing, or predominantly black-appearing outfits are very common civilian wear. In certain cities, in certain seasons, the majority of clothing worn in any train carriage or steet will be black or dark-blue.
The BG uniform makes an individual more readily identifiable as a police officer. It is far less-likely for a civilian to be accidentally wearing the same shades and hues as the BG uniform than they be wearing black or dark-blue.
The sleeve-stripes, lampasse, placket and hatband further distinguish the uniform and identify of the wearer.
LBG and MBG are relatively light neutral shades, so will tend to blend-in to urban and many other environments, especially at low-light levels. This will make the wearer less of a clear target if shooting starts.
It has been claimed that darker uniforms help conceal the wearer in tactical situations, but in many urban areas night-time backgrounds can be surprisingly light and a black or dark-blue outfit may stand-out as an obvious dark blob. (this is the reason that original ninja did not wear pure black). This claim also ignores the fact that if your exposed skin is not camouflaged, you are simply not camouflaged.
Within a dark building interior, concealment is more about using the shadows than outfit shade or colour.
The article referenced above notes: “The traditional ‘bus driver’ garrison cap and the ‘smoky bear’ campaign hat were found to convey more authority than the baseball cap or no hat at all.”
Is this due to some inherent property of these designs, or more likely, a cultural association of these designs with policing? In other countries, berets, side caps, or kepi might rate similarly.
The British custodian helmet, however, seems to elicit little respect. As a classic British comedy summarized: “Come on in, take the tit off your head!”
Given its sometimes physical nature and hazards, the working uniform of a police officer should include a helmet for protection against physical attack and the various inevitable bumps and scrapes from moving in cluttered environments.
A heavy, bullet-resistant helmet such as the “K-pot” is neither necessary nor desirable for most applications. Such helmets tend to limit hearing and adversely affect the officer’s situational awareness.
Lightweight hockey or skateboard helmets have become popular in certain military and law-enforcement circles, and with modification, these may prove a suitable starting point. A similar helmet was used by Italian, Dutch and Dubai police to mount thermal cameras during the first CORVID-19 pandemic.
The lightweight modern police helmet needs a brim or visor to keep the sun out of the wearer’s eyes. This brim needs a gutter to divert rain or other liquids, such as bleach or acids, away from edge and the wearer’s face.
While the helmet should remain lightweight and comfortable for prolonged wear, certain additional devices may be an acceptable addition. A small LED headlamp would be useful, as would a microphone mounting for the officer’s radio.
The helmet should include a Sillitoe pattern band or panels. For positive psychological effect and other practical considerations, the basic colour would be white.
Many of the individuals police deal with wear running shoes or trainers. It is only logical that police should also wear footwear that allows them to run fast when necessary, rather than expensive and archaic Oxfords. Police footwear also needs to provide some protection against physical attack and other likely hazards.
Many years ago I had a pair of black safety boots that appeared to be black trainers. It wasn't obvious that behind the trouser cuff they extended up to provide welcome ankle support.
Police should be issued with safety boots designed to facilitate running. Soles should be cushioned for comfort during hours of “pounding the beat”. (More police need to be on the actual streets where crimes happen, rather than driving past!) The toe should be pointed and upturned, like a running shoe, assisting in scaling chain-link fences. The toes and ankle should be protected.
A knife is a very useful piece of equipment, but many departments are reluctant for officers to carry them. Odd attitude given the same officer is required to have at least one loaded firearm.
Where permitted, a knife is usually a pouched, folding design which will be slow to bring into action when it is most likely needed.
I would like to see more officers encouraged to carry emergency strap-cutters. These are one-piece items so may be quickly brought into action when needed. They may be used to cut seatbelt webbing during a rescue or open clothing during the treatment of a casualty.
Many designs include a window-breaker feature.
A red or orange coloured strap-cutter tool should be general issue to police, aircraft crew and emergency services.
This item would be little larger or heavier than the credit-card sized “survival tools” on offer, and might incorporate some common features.
In absence of other tools, a strap-cutter may be used to remove zip-cuffs. A small section of file edge might facilitate this role.
Irritant Spray Safety
Most models of irritant sprays resemble conventional aerosol cans. In the heat of action, it has not been unknown for these to be sprayed in the wrong direction!
For normal, daily duty an officer is unlikely to need an irritant spray of more than 75mls. Unfortunately, the smaller the size of an aerosol, the greater the potential chance of a “fumble”.
All but the very smallest sizes of irritant spray should be fitted with a spray-head that has a trigger-guard and trigger mechanism. This will automatically correctly orientate the spray-nozzle in the correct direction. A safety-latch will be mounted on the top of the assembly. This will be released by pulling it back with the thumb like a pistol’s hammer. The safety will be coloured and shaped distinctively, to answer any foolish objections that an officer might use their handgun when they thought they were holding a (significantly lighter weight) sprayer. An argument, interestingly, seldom levelled against TASERs, which more closely resemble lethal handguns.
Magnetic Search Rod
In an older article, I mention that some telescopic batons were being offered with magnetic tips to facilitate searching or frisking suspects.
An alternative (and less aggressive appearing) option is mount a rare-earth neodymium magnet on the end of a kubotan.
I recommend you acquire a couple of such magnets, at least one 5.8mm diameter, since this one can be added to your Swiss Army Knife can-opener. Another magnet may be fitted to your pocket flashlight.
Either plastic or aluminium kubotans are suitable, and high-strength epoxy adhesive should be used for attachment. A little insulating tape or heat-shrink tubing may be used to further secure the magnet. With a plastic kubotan, it should not been too difficult to mill a recess for the magnet in the end. Personally, I prefer the plastic models since I feel the raised ribs are more effective than the grooves on the metal models.
The “search rod” rides in a pocket with the officer’s pens until needed. You could mount a magnet on an old pen, stick or piece of rod, but the kubotan has other useful applications. Frisking someone with “a little plastic stick” rather than your fingers may actually appear less invasive. I would probably buy one of the brightly coloured plastic kubotans rather than “ninja black”. You are less likely to lose it after a scuffle, or get it claimed that you were using something more aggressive like a blackjack.
The magnetic tip of the kubotan is used to probe into pockets or other spaces that might contain hypodermic needles, other sharps or other items that might injure an officer’s hand. If held lightly, the user may feel the instrument react to metal objects like a divining rod.
Not that the magnet will only react or pick-up magnetic items. Some potential hazards, such as hypodermic needles and some razor-blades, are made of stainless steel. Some stainless steels are non-magnetic and some others only weakly magnetic.
Preliminary probing with the magnetic kubotan should be followed by a further searching.
Many officers carry pocket flashlights for use when their night-duty light is not available. For some models it is possible to glue a magnet to the butt-end. This may be used as a search aid, but can also be used to hang-up the light on a magnetic part of a vehicle interior (or tent frame). For flashlights with a control switch set into the butt it may be possible to mount the magnet on the side at the end of the flashlight. More on this idea here. While a flashlight with a magnetic tip can be used as a search aid, the magnetic kubotan will probably be slimmer and more effective in the role.