RoboCop Uniforms

Article excerpt

Consider how much police uniforms have changed in our lifetimes. In the mid-20th century, most cops wore relatively expensive wool shirts and trousers that smelled like a dog when they got wet and ripped easily when you went over a fence. Uniforms of the same basic design evolved to use hardier and less expensive synthetic fabrics, even if they looked more or less the same.

A few years back, the battle-dress utility (BDU) style started seeing more acceptance for general patrol wear, where previously it was seen only on the backs of tactical team officers, if at all. These uniforms are more comfortable, easier to care for, and generally less expensive than the "Class A" style used through most of the 1990s and before.

There's no doubt that BDU uniforms are more practical than the traditional outfit. The concern of most administrators that resist adopting the new style for general wear is the public reaction to the appearance of cops in combat fatigues. Many people associate BDU uniforms with the military, especially in the light of increased media coverage of combat operations in the Middle East, and this can send the wrong message for a police executive who is trying to make his officers more approachable and community-oriented.

There is also the rebound effect of these uniforms, the behavioral adaptation of officers who are wearing them. With years of experience in its "Grad Night" program at Disneyland, where graduating high school seniors had the run of the park until dawn, security officers found that their customers were much better behaved if they strictly enforced a dress code of jacket and tie for men and similar "dress-up" clothes for the women. If cops are dressed less formally, and look like soldiers in combat, will they change their patterns of behavior? This change of uniforms may have much more of an influence on police cultural norms than anyone might have otherwise predicted.

From a "download" technology view, the federal goveminent is working on new applications of military technology to port over to law enforcement. The Soldier Systems Center (SSC) in Natick, MA, has in development a uniform system that looks even more like that of a combat operator, but provides some decided benefits beyond the comfort of the wearer. This project, called LEAP for Law Enforcement Advanced Protection, grows out of the SSC's continuing efforts to provide military uniforms that are comfortable and provide every possible advantage to soldiers in combat. This program was recently renamed from LECTUS, which stands/stood for Law Enforcement/Corrections Tactical Uniform System.

If these uniforms look vaguely familiar, it might be because they aren't all that much different-looking than the ones worn by the cops in the old RoboCop series. From the top, the LEAP uniform includes a Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) that does away with earplugs, headsets and related hands-free communications gear. …