“Not on my area”
“Not on my manor”
“Not on my patch”
How many times have you heard one of these or similar?
Occasionally used by cops but more often than not used by tv cops and detectives to demonstrate how strongly they feel about their “patch” and how the villain will not get away with his crimes or even get the opportunity to commit them. Mike Pannett even used it as a book title!
This last week has seen the police getting possessive about a patch but one of a completely different nature.
This is not a history lesson. There are too many out there who will quibble with me over dates and different county and borough forces but ultimately at a point in history the police in this country came to be. A disciplined organisation based on rules and regulations. Uniform was part of the requirement for a constable and a visit to any police museum will reveal to you how diverse they were from one force to the next. Many of the Chief Constables of our early history were military men. The military is a completely different culture to policing both now and then, but it’s not surprising that some of the military standards and expectations became part of policing.
Uniform should be by definition “uniform”. The same. Officers had to wear uniform, look the part and be immediately identifiable as a police officer. They had different uniform for different conditions and even times of the day. The requirements went further than uniform though. You had to be a certain height to join the police and your hair had to be cut in a certain fashion and, when they were eventually allowed to join, women had to wear their hair tied up in a tight bun or similar. Standards were expected both in your professional and personal life.
I joined over 24 years ago. I got all the normal uniform including 2 tunics and a long overcoat. Your uniform had to be right and your boots polished. Woe betide any young probationer who did not maintain the highest standards of uniform and appearance or turn up for parade in dirty boots. In fact at training school we were taught to march by a drill instructor and were subject to regular inspection parades.
As with many things in life, as time goes on, what was once unheard of can become commonplace. Think about swearing on TV. Never heard, then only after the “watershed” and which these days is largely ignored. Policing has been the same. Officers are, like it or not, individuals. We get the uniform but we all wear it slightly differently. Some cops would look scruffy no matter what you put them in, others are pristine but over the decades standards have slipped. We also tend to personalise our kit or appearance… just a little.
The big thing when I first joined was the tie pin. I had loads of different ones over the years. A police car, a police helicopter, a “Say no to Sheehy” badge (if that wasn’t political I don’t know what was!), a bear dressed as a policeman, various ones reflecting big events in the city and more. In fact I have one on my tie now for successful “Stinger” deployment.
Most were bought for charity and there was always somebody trying to sell you one for the next good cause. The tie pin situation finally came to a head when some officers got a bit “over excited” and one tie pin became, two, three, four and more! It drew the disapproving gaze of command. It started with a traditional police response. “This is a breach of uniform policy. Stop it, don’t do it and if you do expect to be hauled over the coals”. After a bit of an outcry and some movement at the top a final decree was issued.. “Thou shalt wear only one tie pin”. Peace returned to the ranks.
There will always be those who take things to the extreme. Charity wristbands have gone through the same process and in most cases ended up at the “only wear one” solution.
Now it is the turn of the “patch”. This is a fairly new one to hit the masses. A monotone Union Jack (my preferred term.. let’s not row about it) with a thin blue line running through the centre. It’s Velcro backed and can be affixed pretty much anywhere there is a receptive surface or the opposing Velcro half can be sewn on. The most logical place is body armour as it normally has some Velcro exposed. Now whilst this variant of the flag may be quite new, the Union Jack in monotone is not. I’ve seen this several times and generally on firearms officers who, let’s face it, have a penchant for pimping their kit! But as with anything used by only a few people, it can pass unnoticed. Only when its popularity rises does an issue arise with it.
So why the popular rise? This really depends upon which camp you sit in and there are, broadly, three of them;
It’s a political statement about the current state of policing in this country
It’s bought because some of the proceeds go to the UK COPS charity supporting families of officers killed on duty.
It’s a rendition of our national flag that carries some pride and is personalised to the police by the “thin blue line”
Now whichever camp you may sit in there is another argument to this and it came up in the news when an officer was told to remove it as it breached uniform policy.
So there are two prongs to this. One has the patch and three broad reasons why it is popular and the other is the breach of uniform policy.
The breach of policy is a very safe line for forces to go down as it does not attach itself to the emotion or implied political loading as seen by some. So forces are quite safe.
That said we need to look at when uniform policy ever raises its head. It was raised with the tie pins, it was raised with the wristbands and it’s been raised with this patch. At other times it is silent. Is this because every cop dutifully complies with uniform policy to the letter? Not on your life. Cops still personalise their kit, still wear items they shouldn’t. To top it off we have cops with scruffy hair, unshaven faces, tattoos on arms/necks, hair not tied up and a pile of make up. It generally passes without comment. There was a time when you couldn’t work in your shirt sleeves until an order from the duty Insp said so. Short sleeves were ok, long sleeves had to be rolled up. Taking your tie off followed the same process. Yet even then cops were buying their own waterproof jackets because the heavy overcoat was just not suited to police work. What did that lead to? It lead to, at least with my force, the issue of a blouson type jacket. I once had creases sewn into my operational uniform trousers. Looked smarter for longer and made ironing easier. We now have combats with, guess what, sewn in creases.
Take a look at the police next time you are out and about. We wear caps, helmets, and bowlers. Some female officers wear caps. I even saw one female firearms officer wearing a cap with a slashed peak. Looked a little Stasi-esque! Though I’ve never seen a male cop in a bowler?? We have long jackets, short jackets, black jackets, yellow jackets, normal trousers and combat trousers. We wear Magnum, Doc Martin and Altberg boots. Our body armour comes in all shapes and sizes and often has a whole host of different badging styles. Some have tac vests over the top.. some don’t. Some armour is black and others high vis. We have batons and cuffs on our hips or stuck to body armour. We have utility belts under our coats or over our coats (looks ridiculous) or attached to shorter jackets. The list could go on and on. We are “in” uniform but he vast array of kit that forces have issued and changed over time means that whilst we all look like cops we are far from “uniform.” How many Chief Constables dressed up their PCSO’s to look like cops?
So whilst a uniform policy exists it does not ensure uniformity. It seems to only have any outings when small matters such as this arise.
So what can we do? Well Sussex Fed met with their force today and claimed a settlement had been reached. Officers can wear the smaller tie pin but not the patch. They can put the patch on their kit bags. Now policy and kit issue changes from force to force but based on my experience most forces already tolerate a tie pin and don’t police it at a force level. So no win there. Putting a patch on a bag defeats it’s purpose and in my force we don’t get issued kit bags.. we buy our own. So that’s a no win too. A step in the right direction maybe but nowhere near far enough.
The patch is quite large. Not huge but bigger than a tie pin. It is obvious on uniform. Is it such a bad thing to have this on our uniform? It’s our flag, stylised, yes, but instantly recognisable, fits with the black of our uniform and carries the thin blue line… a term that officers from Special Constable to Commissioner have used to describe the police for decades and was epitomised in this photo at the royal wedding.
We can make this into a political argument and get hot under the collar about purdah or we can just accept that it’s about pride in our country, pride in the police family, is good for morale and raises money for charity at the same time. In Toronto the RCMP officers have the Canadian flag as part of their uniform on the chest and the shoulders. They are proud and have ownership of it. The BNP use the union jack as part of their identity. Will we reach a point when wearing our flag is frowned upon because the BNP use it and could be construed as political? It’s our flag and we should be proud of it.
Should the patch be worn? By the book no but turning this into a political issue and defending it by a breach of uniform policy that never otherwise raises its head is wrong. If you want uniformity, it has to be enforced all the time, not just when it suits.