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Maybe police conduct problem was just fashion faux pas

Tue., Jan. 31, 2012

All this talk of installing costly body cameras on Spokane police might be premature.

Reining in our cowboy cops could be as simple as putting them in less-threatening duds.

It is said that clothes make the man.

Do clothes make the lawman and lawwoman, too?

Mike Fagan thinks the idea is worth discussing. The Spokane city councilman even raised the issue in a public safety meeting the other day.

Fagan wondered aloud if the SPD’s current black coverall garb might account for some of the department’s image problems.

Not to mention the overly aggressive actions of certain club-happy officers.

You know whom I’m talking about.

That uniform is “damned intimidating,” Fagan told me in a phone call Monday.

Why? Because it too closely resembles what SWAT members wear, “minus the face shield, helmet and machine gun.”

Changing to more congenial uniforms sounds simplistic, but since when have I ever let an idiot idea stop me?

Ever willing to help, I’ve dreamed up three alternative SPD uniform designs for consideration.

The HoboCop.

Unlike RoboCop, that weapons-heavy android law enforcer in movies bearing his name, the HoboCop is a new police uniform that pays homage to those gentle days of hopping freight trains and eating mulligan stew by the tracks.

It features …

Bib overalls, a comfortably loose felt hat and a red bandanna bindle stick for toting police essentials like handcuffs and donuts.

This backwoods look is designed to promote a folksier relationship between police and public.

HoboCop – “Howdy, feller. Mah radar thingamabob just clocked you doin’ 105 in that there school zone.”

Motorist – “No way. My speedometer must be busted.”

HoboCop – “Haw. That’s a good-un, sir. Here, have a piece a jerky to chaw on whilst I write you up this here ticket thingy.”

Motorist – “Thanks, HoboCop.”

HoboCop – “Y’all come back now. Y’hear?”

The (South) Hill Street Blues.

Some might consider bib overalls too unsophisticated for professionals who patrol the pockmarked streets of Washington’s second-largest city.

In that case, I have designed the (South) Hill Street Blues, a replacement uniform that practically shouts status, affluence and a mansion on Rockwood Boulevard.

Picture, if you will, a police officer dressed in …

Gray wool slacks. Black Gucci loafers with tassels. Light blue cotton dress shirt. Cashmere Polo sweater (navy) with arms tied loosely around officer’s neck.

(Reading glasses with red braided neck strap optional.)

Wearing the (South) Hill Street Blues, an officer can go from running down a purse-snatcher to running into the Spokane Club for a crab salad without stopping to change.

The Spolumbo.

These are economically strapped times, of course.

The new mayor can barely afford new leather office furniture, let alone equip the flatfoot cops with leather loafers.

In that case, the Spolumbo may be the perfect budget-minded new uniform choice.

Based on Peter Falk’s beloved homicide detective in the old TV series “Columbo,” the Spolumbo requires only one item of apparel: an old trench coat, off-white, and the more rumpled the better.

Luckily, these can still be found at Goodwill or, I’m betting, in Joe Shogan’s closet.

Trolling the Internet auction site eBay, I found several “pre-owned London Fog Columbo style trench coats” at “buy it now” prices ranging from $34.99 to $54.99.

The Spolumbos are roomy enough to accommodate every police need, like a protective vest, say, or pint of bourbon.

I’m willing to make a Mitt Romney wager that Spokane’s rate of cop-related violence would shrink dramatically if every police officer had to perform his duties wearing a wrinkled old Columbo coat.

Knowing the nature of some of our cops, of course, I’m equally certain we’d also experience a significant rise in officer-related flashing.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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