• Out with the old, in with the new - which is also old

    Whilst browsing through Twitter this morning I saw this headline from Police Oracle ‘New 'Professional' Uniform To Be Trialled’ (http://tinyurl.com/ck68kah).

    A new ‘professional’ uniform, this should be interesting. The article refers to the fact that a neighbourhood team in Norfolk will be replacing the black polo shirts with a white shirt and tie. Hang on a moment, what is new about that? That is exactly what I wore for almost 30 years police service.

    The report states that ‘recent academic research claimed the public prefer the traditional image of an officer - with a shirt, collar and tie making them look more professional, honest and approachable.’ The irony of this statement is inescapable.

    In 1829 Sir Robert Peel and his Commissioners developed a uniform for the police that would encourage people to approach them for assistance. Sir Charles Rowan, one of Peels’ two Commissioners, gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1833 and evidenced the fact that ‘approachability’ was a key determinant of the development of the police uniform.: -

    “There was a discussion with the Secretary of State [Peel] whether they [police officers] should be put into uniform or not. The question was discussed at great length, and the advantages and the disadvantages of the two systems weighed; it was thought more desirable that they should be in uniform; it was obvious, if it was a quiet uniform, that a person wanting assistance might obtain the aid of a policeman.”

    (Critchley 1977:89).

    The decision to dress the men in a non-military uniform resulted in them wearing a blue tailed coat, blue trousers (white trousers being optional in the summer) and a glazed black top hat.

    I joined Merseyside Police in 1980 and was given a tall hat, blue tunic, blue trousers and blue overcoat that was reminiscent of the uniform developed over 100 years earlier. The first changes came in the early 1980s when constables and sergeants had their blue shirts replaced by white shirt and a tie. White shirts had previously been issued to Inspectors and above. A few years later black nylon jackets replaced the long overcoats and in the 2000s the fluorescent yellow jackets made an appearance. The current uniform of cargo style trousers and black polo shirts did not make an appearance until relatively recently.

    The approachability issue is interesting as one of the reasons that Peel considered a police uniform was to make them visible so that they could not be accused of ‘spying’ on the common people. The current style uniform is one that would not look out of place in a Cadbury’s Milk Tray advert (for those old enough to remember them) or indeed a James Bond spy movie.

    So, far from being ‘new,’ the white shirt andblack tie is a step back in time to the early 2000s and may indeed make the police more approachable. Now we have to make sure that the police use this ‘approachability’ appropriately to develop stronger relationships with the community.

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