Arbitrator to take on fight over police uniforms

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- An arbitrator will be taking up the dispute between the Phoenix Police Department and some of its officers over new uniform and dress code regulations.

Earlier this year, Police Chief Daniel Garcia handed down a mandate ordering officers to wear a more formal "Class C" uniform consisting of a dark blue polyester-blend button-down shirt and dress pants.

For the past 15 years, officers have allowed to wear "Class D" uniforms -- black cotton polo-style shirts and cargo pants. The choice was theirs.

Garcia, however, said having two different looks can be confusing to the public. He also said the casual uniform option makes it easier for criminals to impersonate officers.

"Given a growing trend of suspects impersonating police officers, during home invasion style robberies and fake traffic stops, it only makes sense that we do everything we can to help avoid conflict with our residents," the department said a news release in September. "This is an issue of safety not only for residents, but for our officers, as well.”

Ken Crane, vice president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), has taken issue with that, saying any uniform can be faked, even the traditional blue one Garcia wants all officers to wear.

"This is the most ridiculous and insulting reason for a decision we have ever seen," reads a Sept. 25 piece on the PLEA website.

Those who prefer the Class D uniforms say their reasons are legitimate.

Crane said the polo top-cargo pants combination is more comfortable for officers on the beat, especially during the hot summer months.

“We have guys that part of their job is to chase bad guys down alleys, jump fences, sometimes get in fights with suspects, that's probably a better uniform to do that in,” Crane told 3TV's Crystal Cruz back in July.

While the department has not denied that claim or the officers' reasoning, Garcia has stood firmly behind his decision.

The Phoenix Police Department also said the mandate requiring all officers to wear the more formal Class C uniforms is to present a consistent front and boost morale within the ranks.

Crane argued with that, as well.

“They're saying the morale is already been kind of low and this puts it even lower,” he said in July.

PLEA filed a grievance on behalf of more than 100 officers.

PLEA had hoped the chief would change his mind before the new uniform policy kicked in on Oct. 1, but that did not happen. That's why the organization is taking its grievance, which officers claim is a violation of a labor agreement allowing them to choose what uniform to wear, to an arbitrator.

It's not clear exactly when the arbitrator will hear from the two sides and issue a ruling, but Crane reportedly expects it to happen within the next three months or so.

Arbitration is the last step PLEA can take in the grievance process. The arbitrator's decision will be final.

In the meantime, PPD's uniform committee is looking at options to make the Class C uniforms more comfortable. There is no time line for the committee to test options and make their recommendations to Garcia.