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Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny with Mid-Far North delegate Senior Constable Chook Taylor who has lobbied for baseball-style caps for frontline police.

Head start

Caps for cops are on the horizon.

This month, police officers in five districts and one service centre will be taking on an important task on behalf of their colleagues nationwide – testing baseball-style caps for everyday duties.

Although the ultimate decision lies with the Police executive, the initial responsibility will, literally, rest on those 11 members’ heads when it comes to assessing whether the caps are fit for purpose as a replacement for forage caps.

The trial, which starts this month and runs till November 27, was announced by Police at the Police Association’s annual conference in Wellington last month.

In a fitting tribute to the member who put the issue directly in front of Police – by designing a prototype cap and giving it to PNHQ – Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny plucked Senior Constable Mark “Chook” Taylor from his seat to ceremoniously fit one of the trial caps on his head.

It’s been a long journey for Mark, chair of the Police Association’s Mid-Far North Committee, and his many supporters. He’s also had the backing of the association.

When Police News ran a story on Mark’s cap idea in December 2019, it generated nearly 300 emails and letters to the editor – the vast majority of which supported the idea of ditching forage caps in favour of baseball caps.

It became one of the most talked-about issues from the frontline.

Mark’s vision was not to totally replace the forage cap, but for police officers to have a more practical option when working frontline in their BAS (body armour system) or with specialist groups such as Delta, search and rescue, CVIU, etc, many of whom already wear caps.

His argument was that many other Western police wear caps, including in Australia and Britain and many states in America. “That’s not to say we would be following the pack, but we would be moving into the 21st century with a type of headwear that is practical and modern for general frontline use.”

Previous requests to the executive have been firmly rebuffed with members being told that caps were not in keeping with the uniform standards expected of a professional organisation.

That sort of edict from the top brass does not wash with those at the coalface. Although most agree that forage caps look smart for formal occasions, the hats are awkward and cumbersome in “dynamic” policing situations. Not only are they easily knocked or blown off, officers need to remove them to get into their patrol cars.

The responses in Police News also reflected generation gaps in policing. Older and retired members were, generally, horrified at the idea – “Cheap and nasty.” “Next they’ll want hoodies.” “We are not a sports team or some easy-going public service.”

But, with the arrival of a new, younger commissioner this year, the mood at PNHQ seems to have changed.

In contrast to his predecessors, Andy Coster hinted that he was open to the idea of caps. And now, under the auspices of the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme and its “Valuing the Frontline” workstream,
a trial is about to begin.

Four styles of caps will be delivered to the chosen districts – Northland, Auckland City, Wellington, Tasman, and Southern – and the Police College training service centre.

There are two different designs and shapes, made with two types of fabric.
Each cap will be numbered on the inside to help with the feedback process.

  • Cap 1: square front – waterproof fabric with lining
  • Cap 2: panel cap – canvas fabric unlined
  • Cap 3: square front – canvas fabric unlined
  • Cap 4: panel cap – waterproof fabric with lining

Police says the design of the caps, in terms of colour, checked tape and logos has been supported by the Frontline Safety Steering Group and is similar to the baseball caps worn in many other Commonwealth police jurisdictions.

Staff who trial the caps are expected to wear each cap for at least two full workdays. After that, staff can wear their preferred cap until the hats are recalled.

Police recognises that those taking part in the trial “will receive a lot of interest from colleagues and peers”, but it has warned against letting anyone else try the caps on, apparently due to health and safety issues.

With the groundswell of support from members that has been noted by the Police Association, it’s likely that the cap wearers will be having to hang on tight to their hats.

Other guidelines are the caps should not be hung from body armour or appointment belts, must be removed inside non-police premises, not worn outside of work hours or at ceremonial or official occasions, and, perhaps most importantly, they should not be worn with the peak facing backwards!

The instructions also remind staff that the “trial is not a signal that operational baseball caps have been approved for use” and members are “strongly discouraged” from sharing images of them on social media as that might unfairly affect the outcome of the trial.

The trial is being overseen by Acting Inspector Sam Keats and advisory officer Leonie Smiley.

  

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