I have worked within law enforcement (LE) since the last century. I have worked with leadership that recognized the importance of officer safety and enacted proactive polices which maximized police effectiveness through modern equipment and training. Currently, police officers do everything from teaching classes in elementary schools to direct combat with terrorist forces. As a school resource officer, I taught several D.A.R.E. (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) classes a day at the local elementary schools and still responded to all types of incidents. Our officers have ever changing job duties as well as high expectations from the public. In order to more safely and effectively conduct their duties, upgrading equipment and uniforms to a more versatile and functional condition will help with officer and public safety.
Police departments are funded by the cities the serve. Outfitting and updating police a department is expensive. There are federal programs that allow the use of used military equipment for police work. Equipment offered with these federal programs included at one time: weapons, armored vehicles, non-armored vehicles, night vision, generators, vehicle parts, combat uniforms- nearly everything. Some items require fees to be paid, some items are free. All of these items are on loan from the federal government at a greatly reduced price and are required to be returned when no longer needed. Part of the agreement in accepting the equipment is being in compliance with stipulated federal requirements. Some requirements are as simple as structuring emergency response to a standard set forth by the federal government. Locally for me, federal guidelines established emergency management protocols which streamlined and simplified chains of command and radio usage during a critical incident. These protocols have greatly increased officer and department effectiveness when used. Using these federal programs which provide officer safety, efficiency and cost saving measures would free up money within the police department’s budget. Ultimately American police officers do not answer to federal authorities when under these contracts for equipment. The contracts that departments sign do not affect the command structure of the police department.
A simple and inexpensive change to a police department is to revise the uniform to a utilitarian and more comfortable style. I have been fortunate to experience newly designed uniforms which use new fabrics. These uniforms increased comfort and allowed the officer to more effectively carry equipment through the clothing design. Traditional police uniforms are based on the military class B uniforms. Class B uniforms are far more of a dress uniform compared to combat uniforms. Studies have been done on the effectiveness of uniform types, colors and sharpness when interviewing inmates that have assaulted law enforcement. Light blue appeared weak, the change of NYPD traditional uniforms, dirty uniforms or sloppy dressed LE appeared weak or unfit and led to more assaults. Manual labor is typically not conducted in a military class B uniform; however such labor is expected while police officers wear their traditional uniform. Traditional uniforms are restrictive and impractical for the various tasks officers do on a daily basis. They are constructed of lighter materials, are less durable, and provide fewer areas for storage. It is a hindrance to wear a dress uniform (with shiny and ornamental parts) to an accident, physically fighting with suspects, or crime scene processing.
In my experience, simply changing the position of the bulletproof vest from under the uniform to outside the uniform greatly increases comfort. This also can allow for items to be mounted to the exterior of the vest as opposed to the belt – placing more weight on the shoulders versus the waist. This equipment includes: sidearm, spare magazines (one to three), flashlight, Taser, collapsible baton, handcuffs, keys, radio, recording device(s), spare rifle magazine, tourniquet, and latex gloves. This equipment is heavy for daily wear on a belt. Externally worn vests (over the uniform shirt) allows for a majority of the duty belt equipment to be mounted to the vest. This change in equipment management allows for better lower back support. The external vest also allows for better body heat dissipation in the summer months. During colder months, a jacket can be worn under the external vest, which allows the officer access to his equipment. If you see your local officers wearing external vests and cargo pants, your local police department is concerned with its officers health and safety.
Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies and upper management are resistant to change. It usually takes a drastic incident to make administrators rethink their strategies and values. The North Hollywood shootout in 1997, where dozens of offers were held off while citizens and police injured and shot by two heavily armed and armored suspects and officers had to borrow weapons from gun stores, made agencies rethink their issued and ineffective weapons when combating an armored suspect. The Columbine High School shootings changed law enforcement tactics from containment by way of a perimeter and hold until S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) responds to a current expectation of engaging the threat within the school as soon as possible. Statistically, active gunman incidents last twelve minutes. Average S.W.A.T. page responses are over thirty minutes. Both examples show old reactive mindsets.
Most police departments now have policies and training in place to quickly respond and take care of critical incidents such as active gunman, terroristic acts, hostage situations, etc. Updating a police department with an armored vehicles, functional utilitarian uniforms, and better personal armor systems which include soft body armor as standard issue daily wear and a modular plate carrier to wear over the existing uniform/soft armor for increasing terroristic attacks involving rifle caliber projectiles allow officers to respond and act in a more proactive manner during a crisis.