Article published September 1, 2005
You won't see these officers handing out citations for improper dress;
You will see them setting good examples
JANET S. SPENCER, Staff Writer
Cpl. Gary Watson can do it in five minutes or less, he claims.
Cpl. Sheila Dawkins doesn't mind admitting that it takes her a little longer.
And for special occasions, Sgt. J.L. "Nick" Nichols says he needs two hours or more.
And don't even ask Cpl. Travis Murray after he pulls the night shift, because for the first time in his life, he must watch his waistline and appearance.
The officers fret about giglines -- shirt buttons, belt buckles and flies -- that must be aligned, a military requirement.
Yet, they make a fashion statement when they dress for work.
From a Stratton campaign hat, to a crisp uniform of dark navy blue trousers partnered with a French blue shirt, the everyday attire can be upgraded with an Ike jacket in dark navy with gold buttons and epaulets.
The jacket also displays the department's patch and the sheriff's seven-point star badge.
It may not be a red-carpet lineup for the latest fashion show, but the Spartanburg County Detention Center officers now have bragging rights.
Because of all the care and preparation in getting the look just right, they have earned the title of 2005 Best Dressed Law Enforcement Department -- Specialized Agency.
The models admit the finished product does not come easily.
Dawkins usually gets up by 4:30 a.m.
"To make my duty time at 6 a.m., I like to be sure I can get everything done," Dawkins said. "There's the grooming. I need time for my hair, my makeup. The uniform includes a clean T-shirt -- always clean and white. And the protective vest."
With prior experience as a Marine drill instructor, Nichols, dubbed the "uniform guru" by his co-workers, said preparation includes a lot of detail.
"The ribbons, the medals. Shining my shoes, my sword. It has to be just right," he said.
Watson also was in the Marines and because he's on standby for the detention center's SWAT team, he has had to perfect his time out of necessity for getting geared up for last-minute calls.
"It really takes me longer to undress," Watson said.
Capt. Allen Freeman, who often sports one of the center's dress uniforms, said the award by the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors is a great honor.
"It was really a shock to all of us," Freeman said. "Of course, we're proud of the uniforms we wear whether we won or not. The uniform actually stands alone, representing us."
"The uniform speaks volumes about an officer," Nichols said.
The officers' attitude toward their work clothing is exactly what Larry Powers, detention center director, strives to instill in his employees.
"As a law enforcement agency, it is important to present and maintain a professional appearance. In a day and age of casual business attire, I often tell my officers that if they want to work for a department that lets them wear T-shirts, golf shirts, ball caps or jeans, they need to find another department," Powers said.
He confesses to his employees that his logic may be prehistoric or from the dinosaur age.
"But I was brought up in an era when my parents taught me that appearance and first impressions count," Powers said.
He handily refers to early television cop shows, including "Dragnet" and "Adam 12," with emphasis on the FBI and military traditions as a basis for his emphasis, also.
Powers who works daily in a business suit with starched shirt and tie recalls an incident he heard early in his law enforcement training about appearances.
"It happened in Los Angeles when two officers stopped two men, but they did not know the men had already shot and killed an officer in another state," he said.
After they were in custody, investigators asked why the men did not attempt to shoot the officers making the arrests.
"The men in custody said they thought about it, but the officers 'looked too squared away.' The same applies today," Powers said.
Whether the officer is working the street, a courtroom or inside the jail, his or her appearance, demeanor and actions determine how he or she will be treated.
Powers thinks the public wants to see those who represent order and security to look and dress in a manner that exhibits confidence in their ability to protect.
"An officer who looks and carries himself or herself in such a manner has less trouble, just as the officers were able to capture those two individuals without a shot being fired," he said.
Judges in the national competition were a New Jersey chief of police, a retired manager of New York Custom and Uniform Tailors Division of Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and a representative of Law and Order magazine.
This was the 28th annual competition, and Nichols and Freeman are already planning for next year's event.
Powers said he receives information from uniform companies frequently offering their products in hopes that he will change suppliers.
"But they'll have to show me something now that we're national winners," he said.
Janet Spencer can be reached at 562-7222 or email@example.com.