BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The Bridgeport chief has issued an order: No “POLICE” on outerwear. And officers are not happy about it.
So, six letters emblazoned on the back of a jacket could be a matter of life and death for the men and women who safeguard Connecticut’s largest city has created conflict.
That is how Sgt. Chris Robinson feels about having “POLICE” printed on outerwear worn by Bridgeport’s Finest, reported ctpost.com.
Robinson was suspended with pay last week for publicly criticizing Police Chief Armando “A.J.” Perez’s Nov. 13 memorandum, which forbids police officers from displaying their profession on their clothing.
“We are the police, are we not? Yet then why are we now attempting to disguise or even go to such measures and means to hide it now?” wrote Robinson in an email rebuttal circulated throughout the department. His email, along with Perez’s order, was obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media.
“Members of Service (officers) are reminded that any wearing of ‘POLICE’ on department uniforms other than road job outerwear is prohibited,” Perez had written. “Supervisors will be held accountable for failing to enforce and abide by this directive.”
“This order compromises everyone’s safety!!!!” Robinson said in his email. “It is an order that can get an officer hurt or killed!”
It is clearly a directive that has stirred up even more controversy for the acting chief. Perez was already dealing with a spike in homicides, allegations of use of excessive force by some officers, angry community leaders demanding uniform cameras and training reforms, and pressure from City Hall to reduce overtime.
“It does make me worry about his leadership,” said City Councilman-elect Marcus Brown. “The police are there to protect and serve. People need to be able to ID who police officers are when outside of the vehicle. If they want to remove ‘POLICE’ from the jackets, what’s next? From police cars? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
In Bridgeport, police officers receive an annual uniform allowance. As a result, they are responsible for selecting and purchasing the clothing. Sgt. Chuck Paris, the police union president, said he is aware of a few members who opted to have “POLICE” printed on some of their clothing, in reflective material, “Not figuring it would be an issue. … They feel safer with that on their jackets.”
Perez on Monday told Hearst that putting “POLICE” on uniforms is not authorized in current policy, which is established by the chief, the city’s law department and the police commission.
“Uniformity and discipline are necessary for the efficient operation of a police organization,” Perez said in a statement. “We are an organization of rules and laws and the rules must be adhered to. A uniform professional appearance is the image this organization wishes to convey.”
Moreover, the top cop noted that officers are “readily identifiable” by their uniforms, badges, nametags, hats, and police patches. So apparently to him, it’s an issue of uniformity, not identification.
Perez also said that Robinson was not suspended “for raising concerns” but for not expressing them through proper protocol.
Robinson in the email that got him suspended offered four scenarios where officers could benefit from clothing with reflective letters, all occurring at night: Working at the scene of a motor vehicle accident; chasing a suspect; responding to a burglary; and trying to breakup a street fight.
In all four cases, Robinson said, having “POLICE” on a jacket or other outerwear would ensure that fellow officers and the public recognize the wearer. Robinson also argued that having “POLICE” on clothing could make a difference in court cases.
“I myself have been drilled on the stand before in trials that that they repeatedly asked me, ‘Well, is it possible that maybe they didn’t know you were a police officer’?” recalled Robinson.
Perez on Monday said he has not been provided “any studies” demonstrating such advantages. And John DeCarlo, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, agreed the issue has not been researched.
DeCarlo said Robinson’s arguments made sense, but added that in some cases such outerwear could make police targets.
“I recall first becoming a cop and having the interior lights of the cars divested of bulbs because officers did not want the lights going on when they got out of the car so as not to be easy targets for someone looking to do them harm,” DeCarlo said.
And Hartford officials recently accused federal immigration enforcement agents in that city of wearing jackets emblazoned with “POLICE” to fool immigrants in the community who work with and trust local cops.
Paris said the union hoped to intervene with Perez on Robinson’s behalf and to further research the clothing issue to see if it current policy should be changed.
But what is the big deal? Officers are allowed latitude in how they set up their safety equipment on their person to accommodate tactical preferences, so why prohibit the word “POLICE” on uniform jackets?
Yet interestingly enough, some officers do not want anything reflective or shiny on their uniforms for safety reasons.
However, back to the counterpoint: Even though the Bridgeport chief and professor say there are no studies that demonstrate a criminal defense, cops across America will bear witness to the reality that this is in fact a defense frequently used to mitigate defendant culpabilities after attacking police officers.
Consequently, both sides of the issue have merit. Hopefully, Bridgeport police will soon find a remedy.