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Treasure Island police ready for sharper image

(ran NS, S editions of TAMPA BAY AND STATE)

Ever since his rookie days, police officer Daniel Peterson has taken the jibes of cops and accused criminals alike.

With polyester brown pants and white shirts as the uniform for Treasure Island police, Peterson and his colleagues have been called everything from rent-a-cops to walking cinnamon rolls.

"You know," Peterson said, "with the brown on bottom and the white icing on top."

Some suspects complain they can't even pick out the cops in town, Peterson said. "We've had some say, "Had I known you were a police officer I wouldn't have fought you.' "

Soon, however, officers in Treasure Island may retire their department "browns" to the closet _ with the wisecracks.

There's a movement afoot to clothe police here in midnight blue. But the jokes aren't the main reason.

"It's for safety. For morale. For less confusion," Peterson said Thursday.

"It's a white shirt we're wearing now, and it sticks out. So when you're going on burglary calls, it would be nice to blend in and not being a moving target."

Last year, the officers created the Treasure Island Police Association to raise money for new uniforms, equipment and community programs. Now, the non-profit organization is ready to spend some of the $10,000 it has raised.

The group's president, Daniel Morton, and Peterson, its vice president, have proposed buying $7,400 in blue uniforms for the department's 20 officers, its chief and its operations commander.

The idea has yet to reach the mayor and City Commission for approval, but Chief Joe Pelkington said Thursday that he supports the switch from brown to blue.

"We could function with the old uniform, but with the research we've done, the blue is better," Pelkington said. "They approached me and said the department wouldn't have to expend any funds for the change."

Right now, the city provides each officer five white shirts, four brown trousers, three or four brown shorts and a winter jacket. This time of year, when officers normally ask to replace worn uniforms, the city pays as much as $4,000. If the police association buys new blue uniforms, the city actually will save what it usually spends to replace brown ones, Pelkington said.

The department's six radio dispatchers would continue to wear brown uniforms, he said. "It will be a way to tell them apart from the officers."

But cases of mistaken identity have been part of the reason officers are pushing for a change. "Of course," Pelkington said, "you will find that private security emulate your police uniform, and you will find there are many agencies with brown and white."

Changing uniforms will require the approval of city commissioners, said Mayor Walter Stubbs. After all, he said, brown uniforms have been around as long as the department itself.

The only other change in anybody's memory came in 1975 when officers switched from light-brown shirts to white ones. The brown pants have remained constant.

"It's part of the color scheme," Stubbs said Thursday. "All of our cruisers and everything are based on brown. I think the color scheme is important to any community if you're trying to achieve an image. We have our identity."

But the mayor said he isn't ready to oppose any color switch.

"We certainly would like to talk about it like we do any other issue," he said. "It depends on what it costs, who's going to pay for it and what the impact's going to be on the balance of our operation and our identity."

Most departments in Pinellas County issue blue uniforms. Officers in nearby St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach wear dark-blue pants with lighter-blue shirts. St. Petersburg officers wear green.

If Treasure Island does change its colors, the department would begin an educational campaign so residents will know when they're dealing with officers.

"We would like to be recognized and have a workable relationship with the community," Peterson said. "There are times when we're confused for security guards. We just want people to know who we are and why we're here."