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Traditionally, dressing for combat has been a prerogative of soldiers and members of SWAT teams. But on Feb. 8, the Metropolitan Police Department began offering all of its officers and sergeants the option of donning navy-blue combat-style uniforms.

Officers refer to the outfits, which were previously reserved for the bomb squad and the emergency response team, as battle-dress uniforms, or BDUs. That’s the name for the fatigues that military personnel wear in combat environments. Police spokesperson Sgt. Joseph Gentile prefers the term “patrol service uniforms,” or PSUs. “It’s just a basic design, the design of the old BDUs,” Gentile says.

The department is allowing officers to buy the uniforms as part of a six-month trial period, Gentile says; after the tryout, the new gear could be issued to all officers and sergeants. “It’s been a morale booster,” he says. “Officers are very happy with it.”

The new outfits, which cost about $113, consist of dark-blue long- or short-sleeved shirts, dark-blue trousers, and a soft cloth cap. Officers find them more practical than their traditional uniforms, Gentile says—particularly because they are entirely machine-washable. The old Class A uniform features a washable powder-blue shirt with navy-blue, dry-clean-only dress slacks.

The new uniforms are meant for officers who have to go on patrols as a regular part of their job. Field officers “have to deal with some pretty messy situations,” Gentile says. Recalling his own days in the field, when he had to “get down in the gutters and fight or someone threw up on me,” Gentile says, “I would have loved to have one.”

But the military look is showing up behind desks as well as on the mean streets. On a recent Thursday afternoon, Officer Shane Thompson, who is answering the phones at the 4th District main station, says he’s sporting the combat gear. “The BDUs are real comfortable,” he says.

Desk officers have to go out into the field, too, Gentile explains.

Sgt. George Maradiaga of the 3rd District shares the desk officer’s view. “The BDUs are roomier, more comfortable,” he says. And Sgt. Fulvia Brooks, who is planning on buying the new uniform soon, says that it is a cotton blend, instead of the Class A wool-and-polyester blend. “Anybody will prefer to be wearing [the new uniform],” she says.

But another 4th District officer likes them for a different reason: “I’ll be honest with you—as a department, we’re not that intimidating,” he says. Referring to the anti-globalization protests in Miami, Fla., he says, “Miami cops didn’t put up with the crap that we did here.”

“They’re trying to see how the community feels—are we too military?” the officer says. “If they don’t get any complaints about us, I guess we’re going to keep on wearing them.” CP