In a show of solidarity, Minneapolis police brass are trading in the stately, white collared shirts that instantly identified them as lieutenants and inspectors for the recognizable medium-blue uniforms that patrol officers wear.
The change by Chief Medaria Arradondo reverses a policy adopted by his predecessor Janeé Harteau, who required her top commanders to wear white shirts, “so they could be readily identifiable as leadership,” according to department spokesman John Elder.
“This chief and this executive team realizes that there should be leadership in every single person and there is accountability for every single level of this department,” Elder said.
Senior officers — lieutenants, commanders, inspectors and deputy chiefs — will still be identifiable, most notably by the stripes, bars and stars on their uniforms denoting their rank. And under the new rules, they can choose to wear their white shirts for formal events such as funerals and, in some cases, promotion ceremonies, officials said.
The new policy went into effect April 30. It comes at a time of heightened public scrutiny of the nation’s police officers that prompted some departments to ditch uniforms seen as projecting a menacing air, in favor of “softer” looks.
Former deputy chief Rob Allen noted the symbolism of the police chief wearing the same uniform as a rookie beat cop.
“My sense is that cops always prefer their bosses be the same as them,” said Allen, while also offering a more practical theory for the uniform change. “The white shirts were very challenging to keep clean.”
In Minneapolis, unlike other places, officers are on the hook for buying their own uniforms and equipment.
Under the most recent union contract, which runs through December 2019, officers are given a roughly $2,400 uniform allowance when they start — and $750 each year thereafter — to purchase everything from shirts and trousers to bullet-resistant vests and tourniquets, none of which the department provides.
At police headquarters, sartorial changes have rarely been taken lightly.
In years past, patrol officers wore tan-and-brown uniforms during the summer months before switching to blue full-time to satisfy the demands of the rank-and-file. In 1981, then-chief Tony Bouza ran afoul of the police union when he ordered all officers to start wearing name plates on their uniforms. His successor, former chief John Laux, also faced intense backlash when he endorsed a new uniform that featured a city insignia on both sleeves, instead of the traditional American flag. Officers were regularly getting confused for private security officers, who also wore navy blue uniforms with a flag patch sewn on the right shoulder, he reasoned. But the change was opposed by hundreds of veterans, some of whom worked in his department.
More recently, the department changed its SWAT team uniforms from the olive green favored by the Army to dark blue in an attempt to soften the unit’s image. The change was among the recommendations made by then-President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which argued that police could “minimize confrontation” by wearing “soft look” uniforms.
Before Harteau, chiefs Tim Dolan and William McManus were usually seen in their department blues.
Elder said the change also sends a clear message to not only the rank-and-file, but also to the public, that no one is above accountability, he said.
“These are all people who are worker bees,” Elder said of the command staff. “Their assignments may be the chief’s office or the executive team, but at the end of the day, they are cops.”