There seems to be 3 major issues that are part of Chief Kral’s banning the use of load bearing vests for patrol. Citizen Perception, the utility of the vest, and the Chief makes the decisions.
First is that the Chief says the vests are too military looking and hurt police community relations. The banning the use of a load bearing vest won’t miraculously improve police community relationships. The good thing is that changing the public’s perception should be an easy obstacle to over come. Some presentations of the vest to the public would educate the public why the vests are necessary. Presentation could be made to groups like business associations, Chief advisory board, Citizen Police Academies, Neighborhood Watch Groups. The police could have adults and kids try on police equipment on a belt and a vest so the public could see the difference between the two. Police could have a contest with kids to see who could dress quicker. This could be done during career days at schools, a police open house, or during fire department open houses if police partner with local fire departments. After the public’s perceptions are changed the public may see the officers 6’02” officers in vests as reassuring and the “BAD” guys should see them as intimidating, which is a good thing. If you are worried that the load bearing vest is perceived by the citizenry as intimidating there are some actions you can do to eliminate that perception from the good people in Toledo. If a load bearing vest intimidates bad people – that is a good thing.
Secondly, the officers think the load bearing vests are a better way to carry the equipment police need and the vest help keep officers healthier. Whatever position the officers and management of the Toledo Police support, their decision should be based research and experience. In the short interview of Chief Kral (posted on the WTVG website see link below) it is difficult to tell how much research and best practices were considered. There is a serious problem with back injuries in policing. Part of the problem is the payload today’s officers carry while on patrol. The leather belt, body armor, a gun, 3 magazines, 2 pairs of handcuffs, police radio, body-worn camera, an electronic control weapon, knife, hand tool, defense spray, and an ems/tourniquet bag. Estimates are the officer are carrying 30 lbs of equipment. Any improvement on a better way for police to carry equipment their equipment MUST be considered. The Orlando Sentinel reported on a study spearheaded by Dr. Jeff Janot that found that officers using load bearing vests reported feeling healthier. A 4 page summary of the study can be found HERE. I have never used a load bearing vest I do use a external vest carrier for body armor and I find it more comfortable than wearing body armor under my uniform shirt. A system similar to the suspender system the Chief is suggesting is available HERE (for the abstract and report).
Lastly it is true that the Chief sets policy for the department. Usually for decisions about equipment and uniforms the Chief consults with various officers from the department like his staff, police supervision, the union, tactical training officers, Field training officers, and informal patrol leaders. When officers feel that the process used to make a decision on load bearing vest was fair and just the officers will be more likely to support the decision.
When the public is informed, research on options of load bearing vests vs other systems are reviewed, and that the decision to include the vest as part of the uniform is made by committee, what ever the outcome is it should be more accepted by the members of the Toledo Police Department.
Posting on the WTVG website
There are a number of tools police officers need to carry to fight crime on the street, and Toledo’s top cop is addressing gripes about his new policy to ban a particular vest Toledo police officers used to wear.
Officers have been told they can no longer wear Molle tactical vests.
The order went into effect February 1.
“In my opinion, that looks too much like a military soldier,” said Toledo Police Chief George Kral.