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Wichita officers, Sedgwick County deputies testing new uniform options

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 2, 2013, at 7:02 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at 2:59 p.m.

Local law enforcement officers could be sporting new looks in the near future.

Several Sedgwick County sheriff’s officers and detention deputies have been “test wearing” what could become a summer uniform for the roughly 500 men and women in the department who wear them on duty.

Meanwhile, some Wichita Police Department officers are trying out new pants that could largely replace those used by officers for more than 60 years.

The summer uniforms being tested by patrol deputies, reserves and detention deputies feature short-sleeved polo shirts and khaki or coyote brown cargo pants. The coyote pants are a hit, but the polo shirts are getting a thumbs-down.

“They told us it wouldn’t fade,” Deputy Erin Wannow said wryly.

After just one month of daily washes, however, the cotton shirts have faded so much that Wannow and fellow deputy Lanetta Hairston appear to be wearing two different shirts.

The uniform manufacturers also said the shirts would stand up well to frequent use. But Wannow already has more than one patch on her shirt. And the wear marks on the back of her shirt where a flashlight on her duty belt rubs the fabric suggest another patch will be needed soon.

Hairston has worn holes in her sleeve.

“Just from doing this,” she said, pulling out a pen she uses to write tickets or take notes.

The sheriff’s badges embroidered on the front of the shirts have begun to “bunch” or pull at the cotton fabric, making the shirts appear older than they actually are.

“This is why we do wear tests,” Sgt. David Mattingly said. “These are the kinds of things we need to hear.”

Hairston said she likes the khaki pants. For her part, Wannow was delighted after she switched to the coyote pants in a men’s size.

They give her more room, she said, which makes getting into and out of her squad car easier.

A polo shirt made with multi-blend fiber and featuring the ability to wick moisture away from the body is getting rave reviews, Mattingly said. It’s lighter, holds its color better and is proving durable as well.

Even though she’s not happy with the polo she’s test-wearing, Wannow said she hopes the department approves the summer uniform.

“I can’t wait” to get it, she said.

Neither can most of her fellow patrol deputies, who are frequently asking her when the test period will be done and the uniforms ordered.

They’re cooler and more comfortable, Wannow said, and the embroidered badge on the front and “Sheriff” imprinted in large letters on the back still make it obvious to the public that they’re dealing with law enforcement officers.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I can see you coming from a mile away,’ ” Wannow said.

Deputies will wear-test the uniforms through October, Mattingly said. The final decision will be made by Sheriff Jeff Easter, he said.

No matter what Easter decides, Mattingly said, the current blue uniforms will remain in use to some degree – not just because they provide more warmth in cold weather but because of their professional appearance.

Meanwhile, several Wichita police officers are testing green uniform pants that, if approved, would become standard duty apparel.

“I absolutely love ’em,” Officer Justin Cole said of the test pants. “They’re significantly more functional than our traditional uniform on duty.”

Wichita officers have been wearing the current pants, a pink/tan dress pant with a green stripe, since shortly after World War II. They were army surplus and thus easy to get.

But Las Vegas is the only other large police force in the country to still use the same style of pant, Wichita police officials say. They cost $100 a pair – about twice the price of the patrol duty pants now being tested.

“It looks great when you’re standing at attention, but other than that ...,” Cole said of the current uniform pants. “Everyday patrol use, that isn’t what they’re really designed for.”

The police department is seeking input from the public on its Facebook page about the patrol duty pants. Retired officers and some current officers aren’t happy with the idea of making a change, Cole said.

Reaction among those who posted on Facebook was mixed. Critics called the pants too casual, while a slight majority indicated that if officers consider them more comfortable and they can still do their job, then they’re fine with the change.

“I like the extra storage” in the test pants, Officer Robyn Douty said. “It was near impossible to put things in the stripe pants.”

Officers will continue test wearing the duty pants into early October. It’s not clear when a decision on their use will be made.

Even if the department adds patrol duty pants to the uniform options, the current pants will be retained for use in ceremonies and other formal functions, officials said. Tan has been the primary color for the department for nearly a century, police officials say, so they’ll want to maintain that in some fashion for the sake of tradition.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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