Spokane Councilman thinks new uniforms may help Police PR crisis

SPOKANE, Wash. - Rebuilding public trust may be the biggest challenge facing the Spokane Police Department in 2012. One city council member thinks he has the solution: New uniforms.

Currently Spokane police officers wear black jumpsuits. Though they aren't the traditional two-piece, blue wool suits, Spokane Police Chief Scott Stephens says they are more practical.

?The jumpsuits are warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, they are durable, they wash and wear, they last three times as long as a wool uniform,? Stephens said.

Stephens is looking into Councilman Mike Fagan's idea for new uniforms, but has to consider the cost and utility of introducing new clothing.

The traditional wool uniforms, usually in navy blue, cost $120 per suit and each officer needs at least four. The wool soaks up sweat and water easily, which means they're sent to the dry cleaner often. In 2007, the department saved $34,000 in dry cleaning bills by switching to the black jumpsuits. The jumpsuits are $400 a piece, last longer than the wool suits and are machine washable.

Fagan, a former police detective, says the police department has a perception issue.

?Common sense to me would say I would have a better time dealing with somebody that was in a blue police officer uniform rather than the black jumpsuit, utility belt, gun, tasers, I mean to me that would be a bit intimidating,? Fagan said.

He says Spokane's trust in its officers is dwindling and the militaristic black jumpsuits aren't helping.

?The difference here would be a guy dressed in blue ready to do business with you, versus a guy dressed in a black jumpsuit which his exactly what the SWAT units wear,? he said.

He points to the New York Police Department as an example of the uniforms the Spokane Police should be wearing.

?Yeah, like those guys they're easily distinguished as police officers, the look here is a lot more appealing,? Fagan said, pointing to a Google-search picture of the NYPD.

?NYPD wears almost exactly what I'm wearing,? Stephens said, pointing to his wool officer's uniform. ?They wear navy blue.?

Chief Stephens says it's possible he'll strike a balance with Fagan as long as his officers can still have the utility of a jumpsuit. There are jumpsuit options available that look as if they're a two-piece suit.

Knowing the Spokane Police Department has a PR case on its hands, the police chief has other changes in the works, too.

?One of the messages I keep telling people is that I want you to feel well served and I want you to feel safe when a Spokane police officer shows up,? Stephens said. ?So maybe that goes back to putting the traditional 'to protect and serve' on the side of the vehicle to let the public know that is our primary goal.?