NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell and I would have a great time talking over a couple of drinks on vacation, perhaps on a cruise, about how command presence and pride of appearance in uniform have nosedived over the past decade.
A couple of years ago I saw a lieutenant from a small agency in the produce section of the grocery store on his way to a community event. It was obvious from what he was buying, that he wasn’t shopping for his home. He wore a clean, pressed and properly creased uniform. He presented as a total professional. A few days ago, I saw two high-ranking friends from different agencies and their uniforms, both traditional class B, looking fantastic. They both invested the time and the effort to look their best and it worked. Any room they walked into, they would inspire confidence and rightly so.
The New York Post reports a return to traditions. In the CompStat meeting at NYPD headquarters Chief Chell announces: “Uniform changes are coming rather quickly,” Chell tells the bosses in the video. “No more beards in about a week. No open collars in about a week. We’re going back to weather restrictions on knit caps.” He continues “Basically, what I’m telling everybody in this room is we’re going back old school,” he says.” We’re going to bring back some traditions that we kind of lost in the past couple years.”
Special assignments beget special uniforms. The marine unit has different duties from the ranch-agriculture unit. Motors officers look better in britches and boots than BDUs and black sneakers. Tac and K-9 units are dressed to roll down a hill. But the desire for a modern comfortable uniform has trickled down to patrol. Like hospitals, the wardrobe expectations have changed over the decades from where nurses wore distinctive uniforms to today where the doctors, techs, nurses, and janitorial staff all wear matching surgical scrubs. Long before today’s public safety staffing crisis, standards on appearance factors like tattoos, were incrementally relaxed as recruiters didn’t like eliminating amazing candidates. Beards, previously requiring a doctor’s note or a religious exemption, appealed to officers and were added as one of the free things a department can do to increase job satisfaction.
Most opinions on tattoos, a subject of expression so broad and varied, simply don’t matter. Tattoo restrictions were codified into policy while many were grandfathered in had blurry tattoos visible while wearing short sleeve uniforms. It wasn’t right that one group could bear tattoos while another group couldn’t be hired, and if they were hired they had to wear long sleeves. That wasn’t fair. However, body art often presents as messaging, depending what the content is and the exposure to the public. Swastikas provide an easy example. I’d prefer they not be present showing or covered. Where does the thin blue line flag fall? Hopefully not on a Punisher mask or Spartan helmet design. Especially following an officer involved shooting. Ultimately, body art is public facing content that requires wise standards to be moderated.
Apart from what I think, it’s a moot point; the genie has long left the bottle. I have a 9/11/2001 newspaper with an image of a NYPD officer with full sleeve tattoos patriotically waving the flag of our Constitutional Republic. That’s where we were 22.5 years ago and that’s where I am today.
A fool’s pursuit
A facial hair policy with accommodation for beards is monster to tame. The only thing more challenging would be an (attempted) ban on beards for uniformed personnel. Besides being nearly impossible as an administrative goal, no sane individual would put their hand in the saw by implementing this foolish policy during a time where the NYPD is losing essential staff at an unacceptable rate.
Retired NYPD Lieutenant John Macari left the police force due to oppressive illegal COVID mandates but hasn’t stopped courageously standing up to police administration on behalf the officers. He tweeted the following post on X and gave me permission to quote him:
“NYPD cops are getting assaulted everyday. The politically appointed management’s solution to combat this is to get rid of workout supplements & beards while at the same time allowing cops to change their gender or identify as non-binary. This is not competent leadership.”
He and retired NYPD Lieutenant Eric Dym host The Finest Unfiltered podcast. I follow them and highly recommend them to you. Their links are in the references.
Chief Chell’s timing suggests that beards, uniforms and body art mandates have to do with the attack on officers in Times Square where illegal aliens brutally beat a NYPD officer and lieutenant and post capture, they were released without bail. Several were captured again in Arizona for pre-trial violations.
Chief Chell was also on LinkedIn last month boasting with this post:
“On a cold Sunday in January, our 24/7/365 Citi-Wide Apprehension strategy worked again. Encrypted Communications , Aviation, Hwy Division, Camera network, social media, drones , all Patrol Borough units with proper supervision coordinated by our Joint Operations Center.
If you think for a moment that misguided, immature, and selfish individuals are going to use our highways as a play pen you’re mistaken. To inconvenience New Yorkers going about their business will not happen under our watch! This is why we have taken over 45k cars and mopeds off our streets in the last 18 months!”
I reacted in a rare critical post:
“Skid row and tent city abruptly end under an overpass at the Los Angeles city limits and a neighboring city that ‘drew the line.’ The world sees a brawl in a swarm of youth and while a couple of arrests were made, … the NYPD looked weak. Moms for Liberty were harassed by the (Manhattan) borough president and BLM/Antifa while white nationalists, likely feds and informants, goose stepped with impunity. Chief, you won’t ‘change the perception’ of lawlessness until the offenders get the message, until they tell one another that NYC is target hardened. For Pete’s sake you have a chanting death cult supporting murderers who admit to holding hostages, and they’re successfully blocking the major arteries of your city. Are they going to squeeze harder or will you?”
Getting beaten in the streets
The attacks on NYPD officers have been happening for years. In 2014, a murderer targeted and killed two NYPD officers sitting in their car on a detail. It was the first shooting death of a NYPD officer in three years in the largest municipal police department in the world.
The Associated Press reported “…he approached the passenger window of a marked police car and opened fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head. The officers were on special patrol in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.” Tragedy struck again in 2017 when another unprovoked attack took the life of another NYPD officer filling out reports in a command vehicle. Then, pre-COVID we had the community dumping buckets of water on officers.
On November 11, 2023, a NYPD lieutenant was slashed twice in the face breaking up a knife fight on a subway in The Bronx. Days later, two NYPD officers on November 13, 2023, also in The Bronx responded to a complaint of a group of people smoking in a non-smoking area. Local news reports : “…when the officers asked the group to put out their cigarettes, they refused. As the officers were removing them from the station, the group fought back.”
City Journal Editor Rafael Mangual writes: “For years, my colleagues and I have called attention to the destructive policies that city and state officials have proposed and enacted. We’ve warned that those shifts would embolden offenders, make police more vulnerable, and put residents at risk. The Times Square episode is an amalgam of the obvious and expected effects of just a few of those policies.”
New uniform requirements
In 2014, while working a detail with younger officers, they shared an esoteric term from their recent academy class. To them, an officer whose uniform was in disorder was called a ‘soup sandwich.’ It’s always been insane that academy inspection requires honor guard precision but officers in their department get to skip shaving before work and show up basically in cop pajamas. On another occasion, I had officers assigned to assist with a violence prevention event. The one officer whose uniform had holes where his asp and holster had worn through on both his shirt and trousers also hadn’t shaved in days. He told me that if he knew the chief was going to be there, he would have dressed and groomed better. I’m thinking ‘Don’t you have a sergeant who would write you up for looking like a soup sandwich?’
While I believe that improved uniform standards and concepts are necessary in the future, we don’t need to go back to Adam-12. Given the other challenges facing departments including NYPD, this priority needs to land on the back burner.
The real challenges
Budgeted last year for 35,000 sworn officers, and currently nearly 3,000 short, Mayor Eric Adams has reduced services across the board in all departments by 20% due to accommodating illegal aliens. They are working toward reducing staffing to 32,000 officers by 2025. This should not be a problem. With these new unwise uniform and appearance standards, I would be surprised if they don’t overshoot that goal by a couple of thousand officers. New York City and its 1979 settlement with the Coalition for the Homeless has a very expensive obligation.
Adding 150,000 newcomers to a city of eight million people doesn’t sound like a lot, but as recent events have revealed, they require outsized demand on services, especially public safety services.
Not the time to be down 6,000 officers from 2023 standards. Not the time to give everyone with an exit strategy a reason to leave.
Please keep all our officers in your prayers, especially New York’s Finest!