Op-Ed: The White Shirt Effect

Today’s guest op-ed comes from the Odd Angry Scotsman. He was a Marine, then a Soldier, and now has been an active police officer in a large American metropolitan city for more than two decades. This was originally written over the summer and has been reposted here with permission. Read up.

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The Odd Angry Scotsman

Several days a week for more than two decades I have worn a white shirt to work. Sometimes it is a short sleeve shirt, and sometimes it is a long sleeve shirt with a tie. It is always worn over, and never under, a ballistic vest. I seldom wear a jacket even when the temp drops well below zero. The only time I have varied from this are two shifts (that’s right I said two) I have worked plain clothes, and holidays that fall on Thursdays. On holidays that fall on a Thursday, I have been known to wear a black turtleneck (or as my daughter calls it a “tacti-neck”) over, and never under, a ballistic vest. Why do I dress this way? Well, I am a cop and there are now more comfortable options that have evolved since I started doing the job–but I feel pretty strongly about this one. One of the biggest reasons is the White Shirt Effect which we will talk about a little later.

Other officers ask me “How can you wear a long sleeve shirt and a tie for a ten-hour shift?” Well, when I started being a cop there were no other options. In the winter it is the uniform and as we all know uniforms are not always designed for comfort.

The white shirt (with a tie in the winter) and eight-point white uniform hat looks far more professional, at least in my opinion than a turtleneck and whatever stupid beanie cap may be authorized. Sure the tacti-neck and beanie cap may be more comfortable and efficient than the white shirt, but like I said before uniforms ain’t designed for comfort.

I have heard officers complain that the white shirt makes them an easy target at night. That may be so, but in the grand scheme of things if I roll up to an active scene and the presence of a new and more inviting target saves the life of an innocent person, so be it.

Some folks have said that the new uniforms are intimidating. I don’t actually agree with this. The man or woman in the uniform makes the uniform intimidating not the other way around. A wimp in a suit of armor is still a wimp. When gaining compliance is the goal, presence, and professionalism are the key.

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THE WHITE SHIRT EFFECT

A good friend Cassandra Merrill and I were talking a while back and she made the following statement: “I don’t know how you can maintain a level of sanity doing what you do for as long as you’ve done it.”

Well, the White Shirt Effect has been partially responsible.

When I was fresh out of the academy, my first coach told me you have to find a way not to take any of the shit these people subject you to personally–because if you take it personally it will eat you up and leave you empty inside. Well, I pondered on that advice and came up with the White Shirt Effect.

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Over the years I have been punched, kicked, had a finger almost completely bitten off, and just generally been shit talked to. The punches, kicks, and bite were all violations of the law and were dealt with accordingly and efficiently. This shit talk was dealt with by invoking the White Shirt Effect.

When a person verbally attacks me or generally just talks shit, they are truly not attacking me. They don’t know me or anything about me. They are not attacking my occupation because they clearly don’t know shit about what it means to be the police either. What they see is nothing more than a white shirt. At the end of the day, I win because the white shirt goes in the hamper and all the hate gets washed out with a little hot water and laundry detergent.

 

Sadly the white shirt can’t save us all, because hot water and detergent can’t rid the officer of the other horrors of the job. Over the years I have seen decapitated and mutilated bodied from traffic crashes, gunshot and knife wounds by the hundreds, dead babies, and a woman set on fire for nothing more serious than drinking the last beer in the cooler. I’ve watched far too many people take their last breath.

No amount of hot water can fix that. Watch your back and for God’s sake take care of each other.

-The Scotsman

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12 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The White Shirt Effect

  • October 8, 2016 at 2:55 pm
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    I am an Army Veteran and a Citizen. As such here is my opinion.

    I see Police Vehicles in Black. Menacing to some people, I am sure. Police Officers with bald heads, again menacing to some. I am sure. Bloused Combat Boots, again menacing to some. I am sure. I think you get my train of thought here.

    My point is that in my humble opinion you are only generating fear in little old ladies and innocent citizens. The gang bangers and criminals and all the other scum of the earth are not impressed.

    Be a friend to the general populace, a protector. Be seen like the Heroes that you truly are as opposed to a symbol of oppression.

    Again, just my humble opinion.

  • October 7, 2016 at 10:07 pm
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    Amen.

  • October 7, 2016 at 12:32 pm
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    Just because a cop wears a beanie and an outer vest doesn’t him look any less professional. Leave the white shirts to the administrators who no longer have anything to do with tactical level law enforcement.

    • October 25, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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      “Just because a cop wears a beanie and an outer vest doesn’t him look any less professional.”

      From someone who doesn’t wear a badge, yes, it does. When I put on an OTV, it means I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. Therefore, when a cop shows up in an OTV, it means the same thing. But starting trouble isn’t a cop’s job. It’s not what we pay him for. That’s my job.

  • October 7, 2016 at 9:30 am
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    I’m truly puzzled how uncomfortable, hard-to-clean uniforms with no storage options for essential equipment became conflated with a “professional image”, in the law enforcement business.

    Many uniforms exist now that have the traditional lines and details of what the public expects when they see “a cop”, yet are cut for comfortable movement, are made of stain-resistant, easy-care fabric, and have low-profile extra storage pockets for the things you really should be carrying, like a small pocket flashlight, a tourniquet, rubber gloves, etc.

    As far as bus-driver hats versus beanies? One is a funny-looking shape, suitable for court and getting minor frostbite on the tips of your ears while directing traffic at a scene, when it’s -24 F. The other is an essential item for keeping body heat in your body.

    Feel free to advocate the tight polyester dress uniform with thirty pieces of metal flair on it for court, funerals, and TV appearances, but don’t try to convince me it’s the optimum setup for car wrecks, foot chases, fistfights, and general life on patrol.

  • October 4, 2016 at 12:55 pm
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    My father was a Peace Officer for 30 year and a Chief of two different forces and a WWII combat Marine. His force pressured him all the time to wear ball caps and 511 tactical pants. He made them all wear the

    8 point hats, black shoes, belts and regular uniforms. He told me that the occupation of Peace Officer was about people skills and earning the respect of the community. No amount of Swat equipment was going to do that. I believe that is called Leadership. Look the part, dress the part, live the part.

  • October 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm
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    I guess I just don’t get it and never will. I’ve seen more than my share of fucked up shit in my life and it’s never phased me one bit.

    IMHO, grizzly GSW’s and brutal amputations, dead bodies and general blood and gore pale in comparison to the little kid who attached himself to my friend’s leg and said “Can I live with you?” My friend asked him why he would ask such a question and the answer was heartbreaking “Because my parents don’t feed me and they beat us” [referring to his brother and sister].

    Christ if that didn’t motivate me to start making a few extra sandwiches a day.

    • October 3, 2016 at 3:19 pm
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      Sometimes things effect us more than we know and sometimes that realization hits hard when it hits. If however you are truly un phased by the things you have seen and experienced I congratulate you.

  • October 2, 2016 at 7:16 pm
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    Here-Here!

  • October 2, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    Huh? I don’t think I understand the importance of a ‘white shirt’ here, or at least any that couldn’t be replaced by ‘the badge.’

    I thought this was going to be about the behavior of people in the presence of what they believe are ‘higher-ups’ (i.e. police supervisors coming on scene with their white shirts).

    • October 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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      Thorn the color of the shirt really makes no difference. The reason I wrote about the white shirt is oddly enough because that is the color shirt I wear. I could have used the badge instead of the shirt but the difference is the shirt gets washed every day, hell if I have too bad a day I could throw the shirt in the trash and the city just keeps giving me more with the badge that is not an option.

      As far as behavioral changes when “higher ups” are around locally we call that hat magic but that is a whole other story.

    • October 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm
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      I think that he is talking about how the white shirt draws and focuses peoples attention.

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