Hays Police Department Patrol Officer Derick Nordell hasn’t been to the chiropractor since he started wearing the department’s new uniform.
“I don’t feel any of the weight from my belt,” Nordell said, pointing out the service revolver, taser, magazine clips, multiple handcuffs, baton, gloves, radio, flashlight, recorder and keys on the leather duty belt he wears around his waist.
A new suspender harness system attached to the belt, with shoulder pads, takes the weight off his hips and distributes it across his shoulders, relieving his back, Nordell said.
“With this system, you can’t feel any of it, it’s wonderful,” he said. “You don’t even really feel the belt, it just kind of hangs there.”
Nordell and the other 32 HPD officers were issued new uniforms Sept. 27, a big change after wearing the same style since the 1950s.
The actual date is hard to pin down, said Chief Don Scheibler. But Chief Lawrence Younger wore the pink-tan pants with the blue stripe down the leg and dark navy shirt in 1957 when he started, so at least since then.
In 2018 the department budgeted $46,500 to upgrade the uniform. An HPD committee this summer, after months of research and testing, chose the same color dark navy shirt, but made of a poly-wool blend, and dark navy pants by Blauer Mfg. Co. Inc. from Southern Uniform & Equipment, Carthage, Mo., for $30,401. New high-gloss style leather duty belts with suspenders were $14,610.57 from GT Distributors, Austin, Texas.
The new uniform includes an outer carrier for the bullet-proof vest, with side zippers, making it easy to take off when officers are inside writing reports. With the old uniform, officers wore the vest under their shirts.
“You were stuck in that all day long,” Scheibler said. “Even when it was 110 degrees out, which sometimes it happens in Hays America.”
The new shirt and pants eliminate mismatched material and color, Scheibler said.
“We started seeing that the pants were coming in, even though they were coming from the same vendor, and some days they’d come in on the same day, they’d be made from a different material and they’d be a different color,” he said. “It’s important for a uniform to be uniform.”
The new undershirt is made of a wicking material that keeps officers dry.
“The old-style uniform, when you got hot and sweaty, you were just hot and sweaty all day long,” Scheibler said.
The pants have six pockets, including on the side, for extra storage. Nordell said they’re more comfortable.
“The pants feel a lot more flexible. If I have to, I feel like I can run now,” he said. “This new uniform’s a huge step forward.”
HPD chose a traditional style, instead of a polo shirt or military-style tactical pants. Studies have shown dark navy is associated with people being protected, Scheibler said.
“We’re the ambassadors for the city of Hays,” he said. “Often people who come to our community, we’re the only ones they deal with and it’s important to look professional. There are also studies that people make decisions on whether or not to attack law enforcement on their appearance. It’s important for us that our guys look professional because they are professional … Studies have shown If they look professional and act professional they’re less likely to be assaulted.”
HPD also has a new logo patch. The department asked a student at Fort Hays State University to help design a patch with wheat shocks, the Fort Hays blockhouse, and “Est. 1867.” That logo replaces the Pete Felten buffalo sculpture and blockhouse design adopted in the late 1990s.
Scheibler said the historic roots matter.
“They said ‘we’ll put our flag here and we’ll defend this area and we’ll establish our community and we’ll raise our families here. That’s important for us, that history,” he said.
People in the community have commented on the new uniform, said Lt. Brandon Wright, who headed the HPD uniform committee.
“They like the new pant color, that’s what stands out to them,” Wright said. “I don’t think a lot of people notice the exterior vest carriers, it just blends in with the uniform.”