Carroll sheriff deputies don new `patriot' blues

Uniforms: Lighter-weight, lighter-hued replacements are drawing rave reviews.

October 23, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Three mannequins displayed the choices: gray or one of two shades of blue.

Now, a year later, Carroll County sheriff's deputies are displaying their preference on their backs.

As of this month, they've changed their uniforms. The old navy shirt is out.

"French heather blue" - or, as some in the department prefer, "patriot" blue - is in.

The new uniforms might not make it into the pages of In Style magazine, but they are drawing rave reviews locally, patrol officers say.

"The community - family members, civilians - loves it," said Deputy 1st Class Michael Zepp. "I always get comments on it. I have a great sense of pride in this uniform. It's very professional and sets us apart from other municipalities in the county."

Instead of chevrons sewn onto the arms of the shirt, gold pins are attached to collars show a deputy's rank, Zepp said. Patches showing the county insignia are now on both sleeves. A stripe matching the color of the shirt has been sewn onto the navy trousers, and the navy tie was kept. The deputies are also sporting a new basket-weave pattern gun belt and holster, and a much more ornate "Ranger"-style belt buckle.

The uniform budget for the Sheriff's Office - $27,000 - covered the cost of the new uniforms.

It's a change for the better, said Maj. Thomas Long, spokesman for the department, which is responsible for maintaining courtroom security, serving warrants and operating the county detention center.

"It builds an esprit de corps in our office," said Long, a retired state trooper who likes how the new uniform makes deputies stand apart.

`Like wearing a furnace'

It was the summer heat last year that prompted the Sheriff's Office to change its threads.

"The summer before, in stifling heat, deputies came in, and with the dark navy blue uniforms, it was like wearing a furnace," Long said. "A person who's comfortable with work clothes will do a better job."

The idea of spending another summer sweltering under poly-wool blend shirts did not appeal to the deputies, who asked their supervisors for a change last fall.

Upon hearing their complaints, Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning agreed to let the office's 44 deputies choose a new outfit. Previously, he had listened and made changes when his staff complained. When he was elected in 1998, he brought in campaign hats - what Long calls "Smokey the Bear" hats - to replace the much hated "bus driver" caps that deputies were wearing.

Training supervisor David Valentine, who is also in charge of equipment, asked vendors for several samples of other uniforms and sewed the department's insignia on the outfits.

`Nobody voted for gray'

Last October, the sergeant dressed the mannequins and put them in the deputies' briefing room.

A month later, the deputies voted.

"It was a close vote, a difference of 10 to 14 votes," Valentine said. "Nobody voted for gray, but it was between the dark navy blue and heather blue."

"Black and dark colors have a sense of being militaristic," said Donna J. Pierson, director of communications for the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors. "Whereas I think now police are wanting to have a strong appearance, but they're also needing that sense that they are approachable and part of this community."

The new uniforms weren't ready for this summer, but it wasn't as hot as the one before. Long said the office timed the change with the traditional seasonal switch from short-sleeve shirts to long sleeves Oct. 1.

Low-maintenance

The new uniforms cost less to clean, Valentine said.

Even though the Sheriff's Office reimburses deputies for dry cleaning with a $100 annual allowance, he said it doesn't take long to use that up. The new uniforms, on the other hand, are a snap to launder.

"You can throw it into [the] washing machine, and it needs very little pressing," he said.

Valentine said the department furnished five short-sleeve shirts and five long-sleeve shirts as part of the uniform change. On the campaign hats, the Sheriff's Office has replaced the plain pin with a sparkling seven-point star.

Navy had been the color of Sheriff's Office uniforms since 1992. Previously, Valentine said, the deputies wore a two-tone brown uniform.

The navy uniforms no longer worn by the deputies will go to the office's corrections division, whose officers will continue to wear the darker clothes.

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