Over the years, policing has changed immensely and with major advances in technology, the sky is pretty much the limit. But as much as modern day police work has evolved, there are still some staples that have remained the same. Patrolling the beat is one such example that has withstood the changes in this modern technological age.
As I walk the alleys and streets of our Downtown, Broadway and Riversdale beats, I often think about the officers who walked them before me. Sure, our uniforms may have changed; we have more tools on our belts, radios have replaced the fixed call boxes, and the heavy and cumbersome but extremely weather resistant buffalo coats have been replaced by modern lightweight winter parkas and fancy fleece-lined jackets. But the job of regular interaction with the community has stayed consistent.
As the job remains the same, there is an element of our uniform that also has weathered the yesteryear’s of policing – our fur caps.
Officers are issued their fur caps as new recruits. These caps usually end up sitting in their lockers or the bottom of their duty bag until said officer is stuck outside at a traffic accident or maintaining and preserving a crime scene in subzero conditions. Then and maybe only then are they thankful for those archaic old balls of fur. But for the most part, nowadays most officers opt for wearing the Police-issued toques.
Now, toques definitely have their place, but personally I’ve never had anybody stop me on the street to talk about my toque, ask to borrow it, ask where they can get one, or tell me how great it looks. But the fur caps, now those are really something.
As you can imagine, these fur caps are a necessity for officers walking the beat during the chilly Saskatchewan winters, and, without fail, I am often stopped by people wanting to comment on it. The most popular question I get during the cold snaps that Saskatchewan is famous for is, “Can I borrow it?” I usually reply with, “Well, if I give it to you, what am I gonna wear?” Others will ask where they can get their own. But at the end of it all, they are a great conversation piece and help build yet another bridge to make police officers more approachable and accessible to the general public.
Another piece of clothing that was a winter staple for beat officers was the buffalo robe. Many old-timers that I run into on my daily rounds often ask what happened to the buffalo coats that they used to see the beat officers wearing.
The buffalo coats were long gone way with before I became a police officer and I was told by my Staff Sgt. that they were in pretty rough shape at the end of their era. Most were so ratty that they were just thrown out when the parkas became standard issue.
Aside from being heavy and cumbersome, they made it almost impossible to get at an officer’s duty belt, but they were extremely warm and would allow a beat officer of yesteryear to withstand whatever the Saskatchewan winters would throw at them.
I was told by my old beat mentor, Dave “Doc” Campbell, that back in the day, a beat officer would put their revolver in one pocket and a set of handcuffs in the other. Rationale was that if you had to chase after somebody, you could quickly grab the revolver and cuffs, dump the jacket, and take off after the suspect. Doc also said that when you returned to get the buffalo coat, it was either still on the ground and you could see tracks in the snow where a passerby had walked around it, or more often than not, you would find it hanging on a fence, placed there by a helpful citizen.
As thankful as I am that policing is moving forward and making progress, I’m also happy to see that some things don’t need to change a whole lot if they are working fine the way they are; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! The Beat, and fur caps, are two such things.
In closing, I’m proud to wear my police uniform, fur hat and all, as I trudge through the snow and ice in our long and seemingly never-ending Saskatchewan winters. I can’t help think that it is amazing how we prairie people happily work in some of the most extreme conditions that Mother Nature has to offer.
But as much as I love winter, I always look forward to spring, and with that, short sleeved shirts, no long johns and my forage cap.
So next time you see an officer with their fur cap on make sure to say hello, offer a friendly wave or honk as you pass by. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the gesture. Just don’t ask to borrow their fur cap as they will probably politely tell you no.
Stay warm, we almost got winter cased!