By Steve Pomper
You hear a lot about the divide, chasm even, between many cops and their bosses. This is especially true where people with anti-cop ideologies hold political power, and they’re the ones who appoint police chiefs. And what increases that divide? Police chiefs tied ideologically to their political benefactors.
Take for instance Toledo Police Chief George Kral. Rather than make life a little better for his officers, he’s made things a little worse. And what’s even worse, he’s doing it because I said so to people with one of the most significant jobs in any society. But, he seems to be treating professional, sworn police officers like children.
As reported by WTVG 13 (ABC), Chief Kral has banned “outer wear” Molle brand vest systems. Officers wear these vests over their uniforms rather than underneath. This allows the officer to carry gear on the vest instead of on their gun belts to take excess strain off an officer’s back and hips. Officers routinely carry 25 and more pounds of gear, including the vest.
What empirical evidence did the chief use in deciding? What statistics, studies, tactical advantages and disadvantages did he study? None that I can see. No, from his own comments, he admits he’s banned them because he doesn’t like how the vest looks.
Chief Kral, an apparent virtue-signaling virtuoso, and very “woke” leader said, “We’re not soldiers; we’re peace officers.” Okay… Still not getting his point. Though cops are not combat soldiers, they always have to be prepared to do what soldiers have to do in war. I need to hear some objective reasoning before I’ll buy into reasoning that screws with officer safety.
Chief Kral said, “In my opinion, that looks too much like a military soldier.” What? First, what’s wrong with how “military soldiers” look? In professions like the military, fire department, and law enforcement, employees wear tactical gear that is practical, efficient, and works best for most people. Or that’s how it should work.
This police chief just sounds like a bully, petty-tyrant, condescending to officers whom he seems to hold in low esteem. Kral said, “What it comes down to is there are some young officers on this department who have never been said ‘no’ to before and they have to understand that I’m the chief of police and I make those decisions.” So there! He seems to believe his officers, individuals who’ve chosen to risk their lives to serve and protect the good people of Toledo, are just spoiled brats. Nice!
Now, if he had said this same thing and backed it up with some objective facts as to why his decision makes the officers or public safer, I’d be with him. But he doesn’t. It seems to be all about “feelings” rather than substance. What a police officer wears doesn’t injure one person.
The other obvious question is what will disturb the chief’s brittle sensibilities next? Does he have any idea what real cops on the streets are facing, these days? Not just from the criminals, but from the people who are supposed to be supporting them? Like him.
Isn’t there’s also an argument that guns are intimidating? What about handcuffs—or, perhaps he’s already outfitted his folks with Nerf-cuffs (something I always promised to use the “next time” on suspects who complained the metal ones were uncomfortable).
I don’t understand the impetus for people like that to become law enforcement leaders. His comments reflect a deep bias against the rank and file cops. Sad, this is not an irony, these days. These chiefs are not really chiefs of police; they are chiefs of mayors. While the cops protect and serve the people, too many chiefs protect and serve mayors and city councils.
Cops give many reasons why they prefer the outer-worn vests. What “they look… like” didn’t factor into the equation. Only people who believe officers are jackbooted caricatures believe cops place aesthetics high on the list of reasons to wear or carry any life-saving equipment.
Generally, cops today carry lots of stuff. In my department, many officers referred to our gun belts as Bat Belts. While many old-timers carried barely a gun and a pair of handcuffs on their belts, newer officers, especially straight out of the academy, carried enough stuff alone to equip an entire squad of old-timers.
Molle designs its tactical vests to be worn outside the uniform. Officers can carry the many tools they are required to or choose to carry on duty: Tasers, flex-cuffs, first aid items, cell phones, radios, etc. WTVG also reported other officers said, “[T]he old vests helped to eliminate back and hip pain.”
To Chief Kral’s credit, he says the new vests he’s authorized equally addresses the back and hip issues by using suspenders to take weight off an officer’s belt. But since Kral doesn’t seem in the least interested in making his officers happy, I wonder about liability reduction being his primary motivation.
Still, the suspender alternative doesn’t address the tactical issues where some officers prefer to carry items higher on their bodies and in front of them, where they are more easily accessible. Carrying items on belts they are attached not only to the front but mostly on the sides and behind the officer’s back. My priority would be to allow each officer to decide on practical tactical choices for themselves. Not prohibit them exclusively because of how some woke pedant thinks it looks.
We had this “look intimidating” phenomenon in our department back in the early 2000s. Though, this didn’t affect officer health, safety, or training, the department changed our riot helmet cover color three times over a short period. First, we had a medium blue helmet cover, to dark blue, then to black to match our riot uniforms. Then, inevitably, someone freaked out because black “looked too intimidating.” So, they went back to the original blue (we wondered if U.N. baby blue was next).
Chief Kral went full on befuddling with this anecdote. He asked WTVG to “Picture this: two six-foot-three big strapping policemen are in a house and there’s a five-year-old child in the scene. And they see these guys with all of this, and the Tasers, on the vest. And it’s intimidating.”
Well, there’s some fine straw man building, right there. I have a five-year-old granddaughter. She’s intimidated by almost any stranger. Add to that, 6’3” and “strapping,” that child doesn’t care what’s the person is wearing. Strangers, especially big strangers are intimidating. Behavior matters more.
But that’s not the real point. You know what else that child is, whether the officer is 5’3” or 6’ 3”, male of female, all geared up to be prepared for the bad guys in the world who would hurt that child? Protected!
But this chief doesn’t seem to consider this side of the equation, or he dismisses it. Cops get into law enforcement to protect the weak from the evil. They will equip themselves to best accomplish this goal, hopefully according to sound department training and policies, as well as an officer’s individual characteristics.
Chief Kral acknowledged he knew the officers wouldn’t like his decision and it would be unpopular. And that’s just okay with him. The chief expressed how he feels about what his officers think, saying, “I’m the chief of police; I make those decisions… they’re just going to have to learn to live with it.” Does the chief have the right to do it? Sure. But is he right to do it? Not if the decision is based on looks over function.
The prioritization of a perception of inappropriate appearance over practicality and effectiveness is baffling. But, so often we’re talking about people who place ideology over practicality. More concerned with how things look or feel over what works. But until the voters elect pro-police leaders this is what we can expect.
Story was edited to correct description to outer vest from ballistic outer vest.