Change ahead as West Yorkshire’s boys in blue ditch helmets

Community police officers on their beat
Community police officers on their beat
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They’ve been a familiar sight on the streets of Yorkshire for decades, but in parts of the region the traditional policeman’s helmet is now set to become a thing of the past.

After complaints the headwear was “completely impracticable” for daily policing duties, West Yorkshire Police has decided that it will be replaced by a peaked cap for officers on the beat.

Special Constable Michael Middleton from Leeds wearing a peaked cap

Special Constable Michael Middleton from Leeds wearing a peaked cap

It is the latest change to the attire of officers at Yorkshire’s biggest police force, which last summer announced it was trading in its white shirts and ties for tops made from lightweight black fabric.

The peaked caps were already used by some officers, but the decision means they will now become “normal operational headwear” and helmets will be used only for ceremonial occasions.

West Yorkshire Police said the scheme would be cost-neutral because the caps were already widely available, and that in a survey last year the “overwhelming majority” of staff supported the change.

Superintendent Keith Gilert said: “What we have found increasingly is that as the duties carried out by officers and their uniforms have evolved, peaked caps have become more appropriate and more in keeping than the traditional helmets in many situations.

“A survey last year revealed the overwhelming majority of staff who responded wanted to use the operational cap as part of every day uniform than the traditional helmet and, as a consequence, the force took a decision in late 2014 to progress towards this position, with the caps being rolled out during 2015.

“Whilst this move recognises the operational reality of modern policing, West Yorkshire Police firmly recognises the iconic importance and ceremonial significance of the traditional police helmet.

“There will always be occasions when the use of a helmet will be preferable over a cap and in these circumstances a helmet will be available. Examples of such occasions might be funerals, Remembrance Day parades and similar ceremonial occasions where tradition will quite rightly take precedence over practicality.”

Nick Smart, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “We have been in consultation with the force for some time over the issue of headwear for officers. We are pleased the force has listened to us and our members and acted on the feedback regarding the headwear issue.

“The helmet is a traditional and iconic part of our uniform, but it is completely impracticable for daily policing duties.

“We have moved away from white shirts to more modern and practicable wicking shirts in recent times, and the change of headwear is another area where we are updating our uniform making it fit for purpose and the challenges of modern policing faced by our officers.”

Speaking about the force’s previous stance, Mr Smart said the traditional helmet had been “official headwear” and had to be worn for officers on foot patrol.He said: “However, for mobile patrols officers had their helmets in the vans and cars but rarely put it on when getting out of vehicles to deal with incidents, as it was cumbersome and often not practicable. “

Minutes seen by The Yorkshire Post show the changes were discussed by chief officers in October. The move was approved, though Human Resources director Hilary Sykes raised concerns about the swap as “historically it was always a contentious issue”.

The force is not the first to change its headwear to reflect the reality of modern policing. In 2007 North Wales Police issued its officers with US-style baseball caps, matching black T-shirts and combat trousers, though the plan was reversed three years later.

Elsewhere, Humberside Police said there were “no plans at this time to move away from the traditional police helmet”. North Yorkshire Police said it had “no plans to change our existing helmets which are a combination of pointed and peaked.” South Yorkshire Police mostly use helmets but some specialist officers wear caps.

Last summer, The Yorkshire Post revealed that West Yorkshire Police would be swapping officers’ white shirts and ties for lightweight black clothing that would be “more suitable for the day-to-day rigours of active duty”.