FLIR of flying

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NOTE: After I posted this entry, I received a couple of e-mails from readers with more details on the switch to blue uniforms, details that make the changeover seem quite reasonable, and I present those below.

Last night after the TulsaNow forum, a number of us gathered at James E. McNellie's Pub on 1st Street for $3 burgers, something wherewith to wet our whistles, and some local political chat.

I was told that the Mayor and the police chief plan to spend a half-million dollars buying new blue uniforms for our police officers. Why? The decision-makers think they look sharper than the green and khaki that the officers currently wear. These uniforms are not only dark blue, but I'm told that they will be 100% wool. Imagine, my informant said, it's a hot Oklahoma summer day, and you're wearing a bulletproof vest and some other layers under a wool shirt made of a heat-absorbing color.

I was also told that Tulsa's two police helicopters are equipped with obsolete Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) systems. The systems have been in service for 13 years, six years beyond their expected useful life. The company that made the FLIR systems is out of business, and a former employee, out in California, bought up all the spare parts and repairs the systems to keep them running. If the guy gets hit by a bus, we're stuck if our current systems stop working. Repairing the FLIR system in a helicopter means incurring the time and expense to send it out to California.

A FLIR system, which makes heat visible, is very useful for tracking someone in the dark. Last summer, two Tulsa police officers won an international first-place prize for using FLIR in an arrest:

At the event FLIR Systems was proud to announce the winners of the 2004 Vision Award competition. First place was awarded to the Tulsa Police Departmentís Tim Smith (pilot) and Tim Ward (Tactical Flight Officer). The winning video featured the apprehension of four suspects who fled first in a vehicle and later on foot. The suspects were wanted in connection with a gang-related double homicide. After the suspects were apprehended, the tape was later used by the department to recover the weapon ditched during the chase, which was determined to be the weapon used in the homicides.

It would make sense to replace the old systems with something new, if we could afford it. We wouldn't have to worry about availability of parts or support. A new system would draw less power and provide sharper images. A new system would allow eyes on the ground to see the FLIR image, which is currently only available to the pilot.

How much would it cost to buy a new FLIR system for both of the TPD's choppers? Half a million dollars, or what we're paying to outfit our officers in itchy dark blue wool.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

After reading your piece on the uniform change for the cops, I passed the information on to a reporter, thinking it might make for a good news story. The response I got tends to indicate you should consider checking your source. You implied in your article that the mayor and chief chose the color. In fact, the change has been approved by a majority vote of the force. That fact was, of course, noted in the link you provided---for those that chose to go there. The reporter I contacted has probed the matter. She said the uniforms cops now wear are made of virtually the same material the new ones will entail, rendering the 100 percent wool issue somewhat neutral. She also said cops pay for their own uniforms. Yes, they pay for them with an allowance from the city, but that allowance will not be increased with the change. So it is perhaps erroneous to claim the city is going to dish out $500,000 to make the switch. And, the new uniforms will be cheaper, according to my source. There are, apparently, more makers of blue uniforms than green. Price competition allows for $40 pants instead of $70 pants, for example. It seems to me the only financial change here is one of a little more pocket money for cops, in that they will be spending less of their allowances on uniforms. There is no dispute on the issue of FLIR. But the two issues are unrelated.

MORE: Another reader, a Tulsa Police reserve officer, writes:

When TPD was advised by the sole remaining supplier of the green shirted uniform, that due to low demand for this uniform that it would probably not be available in five years or less, the Department formed a Uniform Advisory Committee. This Committee was to research and advise for possible replacement of this soon to be unavailable uniform. The committee advised to go to LAPD blue.

Green Uniform Facts:

  1. The uniform is already a blend of wool and polyester.
  2. The uniform is only available in a single fabric weight for summer or winter.
  3. The uniform is not available in female sizes, forcing female Officers to get something close and then visit a tailor for costly fitting.
  4. The uniform is significantly higher in cost than the blue.

LAPD Blue Uniform Facts

  1. The uniform is available in three different weights including a tropical weight.
  2. The uniform is available in a full range of female sizes.
  3. The uniform is available from a number of uniform manufacturers.
  4. Due to the popularity of this uniform it is significantly lower in cost.

Who made the decision to change the uniform?

The decision to change or keep the current uniform was put to a vote by the Officers. They were given the choice of :

Keep the green
Go to something else.

Blue won narrowly over green with something else a very distant third.

Cost to the City:

Each Officer receives $625.00 a year uniform allowance. There are 780 Officers. If the City provides a basic issue of the new uniform, this allowance will not be issued for the current year meaning there will be no additional cost to the City for this uniform change. There is no $500,000 additional cost to the City.


Bobby Author Profile Page said:

From my perspective, common sense and logic doesn't weigh very heavy on most decisions when it comes to the City of Tulsa.

W. said:

I thought Tulsa cops required to *buy* their uniforms? So wouldn't money spent on the new garb be reimbursed to the city?

W. said:

Jeez, Michael. With so much bad initial information, did your "source" have four or five too many Anchor Steams at McNellie's before talking?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 28, 2005 9:22 PM.

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