By Robert M. Coupe, Colonel (Retired), Delaware State Police
|Colonel Coupe (front left) conducts a troop inspection. All individuals in the photo, including Coupe, are wearing their vests.|
pon my graduation from the Delaware State Police (DSP) Academy in 1985, my family presented me with a very special gift. My mother, my brothers, and my sisters all had chipped in to buy me a ballistic vest. In return, they made me promise I would always wear that vest when I was working.
At that time, the DSP did not issue ballistic vests to troopers, and there was no policy that mandated vest wear. I kept that promise and wore that vest every workday until a few years later when the DSP began to issue ballistic vests to troopers. Then, I switched to the DSP-issued vest.
Over the subsequent years, the DSP developed a policy mandating that the ballistic vest be worn by troopers while in uniform and while performing in a patrol function. This policy allowed troopers to exercise some discretion when in uniform, such as when performing some administrative functions, but not while on patrol.
Since being appointed to the superintendent of the DSP in July 2009, I have continued to wear my vest whenever I am in uniform, which on occasion has prompted some comments from active troopers, retirees, and the general public. Active troopers usually make favorable comments. They like seeing their colonel “patrol ready” and enjoy seeing me as “uncomfortable” as they are on a hot summer day in the vest.
However, some comments from retirees and the public were more probing and usually start with, “Why do you wear your vest if you are just an administrator?” My response is usually the same and starts with: “I was promoted to colonel, but I never stopped being a trooper.” I then go on to explain that my daily commute to headquarters is an hour-long ride, and I regularly travel up and down the state to meetings and events throughout the week. When I am in the car, I monitor the police radio and regularly stop to check on troopers on vehicle stops. Those simple acts do not make me special, but they do make me a trooper.
I would feel foolish if I did not wear my vest and, if on one of those simple acts as a trooper, I were to be shot in an area that my vest would have protected. Imagine the start to that story: “Colonel Coupe wore his ballistic vest everyday as a patrol trooper, but stopped when he became a colonel.”
Now, a little more than three years into my tenure as superintendent, it is common to see the DSP executive staff arrive at events in uniform and all wear their ballistic vests. What a powerful message this sends to our troopers in the field about the importance of officer safety. I have had troopers tell me they like seeing the administrative staff holding themselves to the same standard as the troopers in the field.
And there is nothing like making an officer safety speech at a troop meeting and tapping the shock plate on the front of my vest to remind them to always wear theirs.
Being a police officer is a dangerous job, and while some promotions can take you out of harm’s way for a significant part of your day, at the end of the day, you are still a law enforcement officer—and with that comes the responsibility to do your best to ensure your safety as well as the safety of others. ♦
|IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness|
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Please cite as:
Robert M. Coupe, "Colonels Wear Vests, Too," Officer Safety Corner, The Police Chief 80 (January 2013): 16.