ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg police are happy to turn blue.
The department will soon clean out its wardrobe, replacing its standard green uniform with a dark blue that officers say will give them more cover at night and respect on patrol. New Chief Anthony Holloway said he hopes to have about two-thirds of the 550-person force outfitted by January.
"We are a paramilitary organization so no matter what we have on, we're going to look like someone in a uniform," Holloway said in a statement. "It doesn't change who we are, it doesn't change our DNA, because we are still going to be involved a lot in community policing."
One squad has tried out uniforms for several weeks, and the current favorite is the Flying Cross model, which has won praise for its ample pockets and snug fit. Patrol officers show it off like Vanna White, championing this zipper or that crease.
"I've had people say, 'Man, you guys look like you mean business now,' " said Officer Todd Laslo.
The city has budgeted $281,000 for police uniforms in fiscal year 2015, a $160,000 increase over the normal allocation to cover the cost of new attire, said police spokesman Mike Puetz. That figure is an estimate and the cost may change depending on the style and vendor the chief chooses.
It may seem like a frivolous or minor alteration, but officers say new duds are necessary for solid performance and safety. With green uniforms, they say, they are easy to spot at night. Not so with navy.
"If you're walking up on somebody, they don't see you right away," said Officer Stephanie Skyrme.
A darker hue also lends natural authority, officers say, because it is the standard color of police almost everywhere. According to Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, the legend of St. Petersburg's green uniforms dates back decades to when former Chief E. Wilson "Bud" Purdy dressed his officers in the color of his favorite college, Michigan State.
Laslo said in recent weeks he has responded to scenes as backup, but witnesses came up to him first, assuming he was in charge because of the darker uniform.
The blended fabric of the Flying Cross uniform breathes well, officers said, helping them keep as cool as possible in the Florida sun. They are also fond of the Blauer brand, which is made of a synthetic wool. Both wick away moisture without losing shape.
"You need performance for" running, jumping, and other physical parts of the job, "but when it's all said and done, you look professional," said Officer Jeremy Johnson.
Laslo said if he is caught in a downpour in the green uniform, he will stay miserably soaked for most of his shift. Within hours, he said, his shirt will be loose and untucked — a look he considers unbecoming of an authority figure.
"If you come up (to a suspect) looking sloppy, they could take advantage of that," Laslo said.
Officers wash their own uniforms, and some bring their clothes to dry cleaners around the city. They said they usually have about five pairs of pants and five shirts for a week.
The front of the Flying Cross uniform has a false column of buttons — only the top and bottom actually fasten. Beneath is a zipper that officers say provides easy access to interior pockets. They also favor pockets on the thighs for holding phones and notebooks.
At the hip, the uniform features a small hole for radio cords, a convenience missing from the green uniforms. Only about 10 officers are trying out the new gear, and they met with Holloway last week to discuss their preferences.
Other officers have expressed some lighthearted jealousy toward the handful of officers selected to model the uniforms, Laslo said, and "a lot of the guys and girls will come up and start touching" their sleeves or pant legs.
Johnson said he believes just about any change would be well-received but acknowledges the pressure to make a good decision.
"You're literally changing the face of the department," he said.
Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson.