Sunday, January 12, 2003

T-shirts show pride in police work

When it comes to fashion statements, some of Cincinnati's cops are sayin' something.

I'm not talking about their standard-issue uniforms. They're dull but serviceable.

What I'm talking about is what they wear while off-duty or on duty under those uniforms and coats: cool T-shirts.

I know I'm an occasional critic of police. I don't tolerate abuse, illegal searches and seizures, bad shootings or uncalled-for violence by cops. We get enough of that from criminals.

But I realize esprit de corps on the force is crucial, especially now.

We've just completed a year of soaring homicides and shootings. It's an embarrassment to the police as well as to the community.

And police and city leaders are still trying to implement the agreement settling the racial profiling lawsuits and the Department of Justice investigation. They've made progress, but big-ticket items remain.

But let's leave such weighty matters for another day and hand out some best-dressed kudos when they're due.

Don't mess with them

Some of Cincinnati's Violent Crimes Squads and special units have a quiet competition going for the coolest T-shirt. I'm pleasantly surprised and amused by some of their entries, which are designed and paid for by individual units of the police force. (No tax dollars are involved.)

The shirts are supposed to show pride in police work or to just look tough. Personally, I think the shirts are cute, but at least one officer took offense at that. I leave you to judge.

District 2's Violent Crimes Squad boasts, "Crime is the disease and we're the cure" with a picture of a skull. The officers stole that idea from a Sylvester Stallone movie poster, admits Sgt. Brian Ibold, who heads the seven-person unit.

"I don't know why we do it. I guess it gives us pride in what we do,'' he says sheepishly.

He talks about lining his birdcage and washing his car with the other squads' T-shirts.

The robbery task force has one with a little man running with a bag of money. The street crimes unit designed one proclaiming "Death to dope."

District 4's Violent Crime Squad is serious about its shirt, says Sgt. Rick Lehman.

On the back is the slogan, "Where predator becomes prey" encircling a picture of a cobra. The front bears a sword slicing through a lightning bolt dividing Good from Evil.

Showing your colors

Drug dealers dress the same to show their territory, Sgt. Lehman says; what's wrong with police wearing their colors?

"Ours is the coolest," he adds. "No one's is better than ours."

He ought to know. He's seen similar shirts designed by violent crime units from across the country.

Some police departments, like New York's and Los Angeles', sell their shirts online. Cops collect them at police memorial services and conventions.

The shirts are ice breakers, tools for networking, he says.

So, along with bragging about the numbers of arrests and drugs and guns taken off the streets, cops get to talk T-shirts.

Sgt. Ibold - when he's not wearing his squad's shirt - admires one that reads, "For those who make enemies with police, you'd better make friends with the criminals."

That one has an edge to it. Especially given the protests and ongoing scrutiny of police practices, after the questionable shootings of black men and after the police slowdown following the unrest in April 2001.

You have to be careful not to offend, Sgt. Ibold says.

But you also want to make it clear you're the good guys and criminals are the bad guys, Sgt. Lehman says.

Nothing wrong with that. We all could use a refresher course.

E-mail or phone 768-8395.

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