In July 2010 West Midlands Police issued its front-line officers with new shirts that (a) allow more freedom of movement when worn with body armour and (b) allow the public to tell at a glance whether someone is a police officer (black) or a community support officer (blue). The total cost was £100,000. The Taxpayer’s Alliance was immediately up in arms. Spokesman Mark Wallace said: ‘I think it's absurd to spend money on cosmetic changes at a time when police forces are feeling the pinch. The old uniform shirts did the job and this is not going to reduce crime. I think the public would prefer police to focus their money on catching criminals.’ The story featured in various newspapers and on the BBC News website under the headline of: ‘West Midlands Police ‘wastes money’ on new shirts.’
£100,000 is a substantial amount of money but we are talking about clothing 8,449 police officers, 623 special constables and 789 CSOs (Source: WMP website). Some officers (CID etc.) don’t wear uniform, but even if we over-exaggerate and assume that only half the force wears uniform, that still works out at just £20 per head, and that was for several shirts per officer. And, let’s be clear, the change was not made for cosmetic reasons; this wasn’t about making the police look pretty or more macho. I’ve worn body armour, both overt and covert, and it’s heavy and uncomfortable. And, more importantly, a standard issue uniform shirt wasn’t designed to accommodate it. When we were first issued armour in the Met, we all found it restrictive and uncomfortable. Comfort aside, any restriction of movement, however slight, could prevent an officer – or the member of public they are defending – from being seriously injured during an incident. The Met issued new shirts at a cost way in excess of £100,000 I assure you. However, they didn’t change the colour so no one noticed except the thankful cops. West Midlands did change the colour but for all the right reasons; it ensures that a CSO – who has no police powers and cannot carry defensive weapons – is not mistaken for a police officer and vice versa. However, because it was a visible change, everyone was up in arms.
Senior police staff don’t make spending decisions like this lightly, especially when they know that they’ll be under the spotlight for doing so.
I wonder if the Taxpayer’s Alliance would begrudge soldiers being given better uniforms for just £20 each?
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