The British bobby is revered across the world as the epitome of policing. We are lauded as the finest police service in the world and our uniform stands us apart from many other countries across the globe. I have always been very proud of my uniform. I never had the desire to go into plain clothes units or CID. I enjoyed being in uniform, visible and where the public wanted to see me. As such I have spent over 20 years in uniform operations of one sort or another.
When you join the police, like any other job, there is a moment of excitement before hand. The anticipation of all the things that are to come. The new office or the new desk may be what you visualise or maybe it’s a move and a new life in a new city and how exciting that may be. On my first day I attended at the force training school and one of the first things that happened was the issue of the uniform I had previously been measured up for. This was an incredible moment in my career. At the end of the day myself and the other fresh faced members of the public (we had not been attested at that point so were not police officers) went back to our rooms and began sorting our uniform. Ironing shirts and trousers, polishing boots and trying everything on to make sure stores had got the delivery right. I pulled on the uniform and then took my tunic from its bag and slipped it on. I buttoned the silver buttons down the front and then reached for my custodian helmet and placed it on my head in the way I had been taught. (The distance between the end of your nose and the peak is the first knuckle to the tip of your thumb). I then turned around and looked in the mirror.
There was an instant of pride. An instant of WOW and an instant of “do you really know what you’re doing”. The traditional helmet and tunic of the British police officer is internationally recognised. I recognised the uniform but I didn’t recognise myself.
You get used to the uniform. It becomes part of you. I loved wearing my tunic. I wore it on days, I wore it on nights. It was good on its own or when the weather got cold or wet it was good under a coat. I had been issued with a long overcoat. These were fabulous coats but a bit too long and impractical to for routine patrol. Certainly no good for leapfrogging garden fences and hedges. They weren’t issued at the time but I managed to purchase a shorter coat from a supplier and this became my top layer with the tunic underneath. Whilst I wore my tunic for day to day use there was one other. My number 1. This was at home, hanging up in a protective bag and had creases in the sleeves that would cut your finger. This was for parade at the Home Office Police Training Centre, Force Training School, Presentations or Awards and any other event where it was essential you looked your best. A good example would be Remembrance Day last Sunday.
Times have changed. The blue shirts became white, undershirt covert body armour became overt body armour, trousers became cargo pants and the shirts became wicking t-shirts. The tie is long gone and the custodian helmet often replaced with a cap… in some cases a baseball cap. The discreet cuff pouch and a truncheon in a concealed trouser pocket were replaced with a kit belt bristling with defence equipment and first aid pouches. I didn’t object to these changes as I’m a practical person. On operational duties the traditional uniform was sometimes a blessed nuisance. The trousers were awful when wet, the coats were not goretex and leaked like crazy. They weren’t breathable and were like little bags to sweat in. If on foot patrol and in a chase my helmet always got thrown in someones garden to be retrieved later. The new uniform is perfect for day to day use is far easier to wear and care for and best of all if done properly doesn’t need ironing.
I have been a proponent for the modern uniform in day to day use and defended it against many officers who claim it is untidy and looks scruffy. I would agree that is not as smart in appearance as we used to be but times change and on the whole the new uniform has been accepted by the general public. It is comfortable, practical and the perfect “couture ensemble” 🙂 to get out on the streets and nick criminals.
So what’s my problem? I transferred forces about 7 years ago. I was measured up for uniform and when it was supplied there was no tunic. I was a bit confused and questioned this. I was told they were no longer supplied. It transpires this was common across many forces and it was obvious that this was a cost saving exercise. I was appalled. I went to the attestation ceremony (my third) with my transferee colleagues and a new recruit intake in my nato sweater. To smack it home even further there were HQ staff at the ceremony wearing tunic’s and I had my photo taken with the Chief Constable who was also wearing his tunic. I felt scruffy and under-dressed. A bit like turning up to a party in jeans and a t-shirt to find it’s a black tie event.
I was furious but as the stinky new boy to the force it probably wasn’t my place at the time to kick up a stink. I later learned that the force has a pool of tunics to be loaned out when one is needed. An admission by the force that they are still a needed but not that important anymore. Not long after transfer to the force I was promoted. I was called to see the Deputy Chief Constable for little ‘pep’ talk on my new role. I wasn’t alone. There were 3 or 4 other newly promoted Sgts too. Every single one of them was a long standing member of the force and turned up in a tunic. I didn’t have one… so went in my jumper and again felt like the outsider.
There have been several occasions where I have needed a tunic but either gone without or been told my request is too short notice. I asked for one for Remembrance a couple of years ago and was told they couldn’t provide one with chevrons. I worked hard to become a Sgt… I told them to forget it. I then went through the process of complaining to stores and tried to find out how to get one. I hit a brick wall. I even offered to buy my own and it was put in the ‘too hard to do tray’.
There was then one situation that finally culminated in me getting very angry. I was invited to the presentation evening for my Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Again I hit a brick wall. I could have a tunic but it wouldn’t have chevrons. I was appalled and took my complaint to the Chief Constable. I told him of my pride, how disgraceful the situation was and that I wouldn’t be attending. Suddenly things changed and the stores people fell over backwards to sort a tunic for me. I have since returned it as I’m not allowed to keep it.
You only have to do a Google search for police uniform policy to find a whole bunch of documents from around the country. Some forces still issue. Many don’t. Some forces have a pool like mine does. The common theme is that there is still an organisational need for them. How ironic that you don’t get issued a tunic but if you are to appear before a discipline hearing you must wear one! Every uniformed officer attending the recent bravery awards wore a tunic and every single ACPO officer bar none has a tunic. In the case of the latter, not only is it a tunic but a made to measure tunic.
The latest matter to anger me in this area was a photograph tweeted out on Sunday.
A collection of officers ready for the Remembrance Parade and duty. Even a red sash on the leader. They are taking this seriously… yet the officers are a mix of tunic’s, fleeces, helmets and caps. Whilst they are there for the right reasons with the right intentions they actually look like a shambles. I would add that this photo is the one I saw and I use it as an example and not to criticise the individual officers or the tweeter. I am 100% confident that many others around the country looked the same or worse. I even have reports of a PCSO in a tunic!
Every force has a policy on uniform and appearance. They have documents detailing how your hair should be, how your uniform should be worn, how to wear a beard and how some tattoos should be covered up. They talk about how quality matters and how your appearance amplifies the professional image of the force and inspires public confidence. Indeed it does. The public have certain expectations of us. They don’t expect to see us in ceremonial dress when we call to tell them the burglar they informed us of has been caught after a chase through gardens. They do expect us to be smart and in ceremonial attire when the circumstances dictate.
If forces expect their officers to show pride and maintain the image of professionalism they so want us to portray then it’s about time they gave the officers the uniform that instills it. There is a uniform To Nick in and there is also a time/place for a Tunic.
The fact that a tunic is acceptable for Chief Officers but not for the rank and file simply reinforces the belief that ACPO consider themselves different to everyone else.