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The Toledo police department had intended to change patrolmen into dark blue shirts over the next three years — a move that displeased Toledo firefighters because they already wear that color — but the Bell administration late Tuesday scuttled plans to change the police uniform.
About 20 years ago, firefighters switched from light blue shirts to the dark blue they now wear in part so they could be easily differentiated from police officers. The police department’s planned transition into navy blue shirts would have put both departments back in the same color. White shirts worn by police command officers were not to be changed.
City Spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said the switch was canceled. She said the plan was presented to Mayor Mike Bell Tuesday and he rejected it.
"You should be able to differentiate between the two," Mayor Bell said. "You should also not have multiple police uniforms for patrolmen."
The mayor said he did support the "phased-in" approached and the city cannot afford to buy new uniforms for all of the more than 400 patrolmen all at once. He ordered Police Chief Derrick Diggs to come up with a new plan for uniforms.
Unions leaders for the city fire department told The Blade on Monday that the city’s finest and bravest should wear different colors.
“I think there is a safety issue inherent with firefighters looking the same as police officers,” said Dan Desmond, a firefighter and vice president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 92.
“I don’t think a lot of firefighters know yet that police will be changing uniforms, but I imagine the push back will come when it happens,” Mr. Desmond said before the plan was dropped. “The problems will be when a firefighter is mistaken as a police officer by someone ... who has a fight-or-flight mentality, and we are not equipped to protect ourselves if they choose to fight.”
Seventy-five new police officers sworn in Tuesday would have been the first to wear the navy blue shirts after completing their training.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, before announcing the switch was canceled, Ms. Sorgenfrei said the intended change to navy blue was to help differentiate patrolmen from other uniformed people.
“The officers like the darker uniforms, Ms. Sorgenfrei said early Tuesday. “A lot of departments across the country are using darker shirts and it differentiates them as law enforcement as opposed to TARTA bus drivers who have a light blue shirt and dark blue pants, or some private security officers who also wear light blue shirts.”
Police Sgt. Joe Heffernan, the department’s spokesman, said he hasn’t heard any complaints from his fire department counterparts.
Fire Chief Luis Santiago said firefighters switched to dark blue about two decades ago because they “do a dirty job and light blue is hard to keep clean.”
In 2006, Toledo police tied with the Tulsa, Okla., police department for having the best uniforms among departments with more than 200 officers in a competition sponsored by a uniform-industry trade group. The nod allowed Toledo officers to show off their threads in a photograph published in the October, 2006, edition of Law and Order, a monthly law-enforcement magazine.