WHAT'S the most recognizable symbol of Maryland's state...


June 16, 1993

WHAT'S the most recognizable symbol of Maryland's state government?

Perhaps you would say the state flag, albeit with cluttered field and a design more appropriate to the finish line of an auto race. Or maybe the Great Seal, whose prominence was recently revived by free translations of the old Tuscan motto Fatti Maschii, etc.

But just as recognizable is the Stetson hat worn by the Maryland State Police for nearly four decades. It's the hat that the Texas Rangers made famous as a symbol of law enforcement on the frontier, later adopted by a number of local and state police forces. Here, it has become the symbol of the State Police.

Times change, however, and State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver is studying an idea to switch the troopers' headgear to a campaign hat, like those worn by the military. The origin of the idea remains obscure, it just came up a few months ago from unknown sources and Colonel Tolliver thought it worth considering, spokesman Greg Shipley says.

Sergeant Shipley said there is no formal proposal or no pressing reason to make a sudden change in trooper hats. The idea didn't come from a focus group or advertising agency. It's just an idea to consider in updating the uniform.

There might be some practical advantages to make the change: less chance of crushing the new hat on the ceiling of a car, easier to keep clean. In fact, there are any number of hats that could provide more functional headwear for state troopers.

But symbols help to establish an image of reliability, of stability unmoved by whims of fashion. And the Stetson has reinforced that solid reputation for the Maryland State Police over the years.

It would be a shame to see it vanish, especially to be replaced by the kind of hat that is used by everyone, from private security agencies to jail guards to county police. The distinctiveness of the Stetson is not old hat.

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