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Posted on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Baking in Kevlar: The sweltering misery of summer police beat walking

By Rich Kinsey

Art Fair week always reminds me of my first summer on the job as an Ann Arbor police officer. It was back in the days before the University of Michigan had its own police department and I was assigned a walking beat on Central Campus, more precisely the Diag. I remember many days over 90 degrees and several over 100.

For whatever reason, police command always wanted its beat walkers to walk from City Hall. So as a rookie, you would load up three ticket books (parking, city code and traffic violations) into your back pocket, and since the traffic book was too large to fit in your back pocket, it was kept in the small of your back tucked in your pants.


A police officer removes his bullet-resistant vest after his shift.

Associated Press file photo

Normally the walk out to the beat was a pleasant form of exercise and rather uneventful. On the days when the temperature soared into the upper 90s or 100, it was miserable. Veteran officers would catch a ride from another officer to their beat. Younger officers were watched more carefully or “delayed” in order to make sure they walked to their beat. I believe this was called “instilling discipline” in a young officer.

I am not by nature a whiner and have been fortunate enough to really enjoy being a police officer. On those hot days in July walking out to the beat, however, I figured this must be some sort of sadistic command “test” of a young officer’s character. Especially while wearing a “bullet-resistant” (they are not actually bulletproof) vest.

When in uniform I always wear a bullet-resistant vest. One veteran recently summed it up, “If you are going to wear a target, you have to wear a backer.”

For the uninitiated, a bullet-resistant vest is made of Kevlar — a tightly woven nylon that will hopefully trap a bullet fired accurately at the wearer. The many layers of Kevlar are wrapped in thick plastic to keep it dry and effective.

Those “ballistic panels” are kept in place on the body with a cloth cover that used to be cotton but is now Microban, which the manufacturers assures is, “antimicrobial protection which fights the effects of odor-causing mold, mildew and bacteria.”

Wearing a vest is like wearing a scuba diving wetsuit — only heavier — under your heavy cotton and polyester blend uniform shirt. An officer wears a T-shirt under the vest, and, whether the ambient temperature is warm or cold, that T-shirt is sweat-soaked at the end of the day.

The uniform worn by police officers has changed over the years. Until recently, most officers wore heavy wool pants, a uniform shirt and a black-visored hat, like most Michigan State Police troopers still wear today.

This is called a “Class A” uniform, and they look sharp on officers. Class A uniforms are now mostly worn by police administrators or at formal police functions like funerals.

Most street officers now wear “Class B” uniforms, which used to be referred to as “fatigues.” Those uniforms do not look as sharp but are much more functional and supposedly machine washable by officers; Class As are dry clean only.

The upside of the Class B uniform is that it is cheaper, allows greater mobility, has lots of pockets for equipment and is lighter and therefore cooler than the wool uniforms. The down side is that even if they are pressed and starched, they wrinkle within about 90 seconds of sitting down. They also look more militaristic, which seems offensive to some citizens, but they are definitely more comfortable for officers.

Back in the early 1980s the uniforms were all Class A. So when the temperatures hit the high 90s or 100, I was leaving the air-conditioned City Hall wearing wool pants, a heavy non-wrinkling polyester shirt and a bulletproof vest. Top that ensemble off with a navy blue — solar collecting — visored uniform hat, and I was in for a roasty, toasty walk to my beat.

The heavy sweating started around Division Street. The worst thing about wearing a vest is that your perspiration has nowhere to evaporate to because your torso is wrapped in plastic.

The sweat collects — not unlike a “solar still” used in salt-water survival situations — and finds the hollow where your spine runs down your back. Gravity pulls the pooled sweat down your back.

Yes, the Ann Arbor Police Department had a policy that mandated that officers and civilian alike must wear underwear while working at the department. This policy was imposed in the late 1960s, when a records clerk startled a deputy chief while she was scooting around on a low stool filing reports while wearing a miniskirt sans underwear.

By the time I reached the University of Michigan Security base, then located in an office under the carport at 525 Church St., I was soaked in sweat. Whatever sweat did not make the trip to my jockeys had been absorbed into my traffic ticket book’s cardboard cover. The same cover that supplied the numerical codes for the violations was now damp and rubbed into little paper balls adhering to the tail of my uniform shirt. My “Patrol Activity Log” that I had folded and placed in my hat was similarly wet.

I listened closely to veteran officers who told me: “A good beat officer is never cold, wet or hungry in the winter, or hot, wet or thirsty in the summer.” Therefore my beat walking patrol on those days consisted of walking from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building and drinking from every water fountain I passed. I much preferred “building checks,” visiting the alligators with the oddly bubbling eyes in the Natural Science Building or the feces-throwing monkeys in the dental building to strolling the Diag turned frying pan.

For those S-L-O-W-L-Y strolling through the Art Fair where there are huge crowds, little breeze and hot pavement — dress appropriately and stay hydrated. Hold your child's hand at all times, and remember a baby in a stroller is even hotter than you are, so keep them cool and hydrated or, better yet, get a baby sitter and let them stay home.

Do not bring your dogs to the Art Fair. There is no room for them, and they wind up standing on very hot pavement more than walking. I am the proud owner of two rescued dogs, but I would never subject them to the Art Fair.

Most of all, have fun and stay cool at the Art Fair.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbor.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Fri, Jun 7, 2013 : 5:54 p.m.

Bit late to comment, but our Chief Constable has us wear these things (level II+) ALL THE TIME (in Belgium - bit of a laughter) Problem is, you sweat yourself to death at 16°C , you can't move as a non-alien, the thing only twists in the lower back. 70% of officers complain of back pain (vest + heavy belt with has no room for everything else. Getting in/out of cars makes us ridiculous as clumsy clowns. Running is impossible with the vests. And you stink all day long. NOBODY has been fired upon in the service here for 30+ years. And those who will eventually (the real -villains) will have access to 7.62 war material or our own (not for us) Belgian VBR munition that slates trough TWO vests, coming out of a simple Glock 9 mm. Sorry with 30+ years on the meter I think it is overkill for a police department which has NEVER seen a police officer hurt by a gun. If the super wants the vests, all right, but next to us for fast deployment. And I pity the military who have to wear far heavier vests, but that's no police concern. Jan


Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 5:30 a.m.

I truly appreciate getting the first-hand job experience from a man who's been there, done that. I think we too easily forget the many "hidden" stresses and aggravations our law enforcement officers face regularly. I also think it's very unwise for command level officers to enforce such rules as Rich Kinsey describes: these things "precondition" officers to react to citizens in a negative way. Wool trousers and shirt? - forget about it!


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

We had no Kevlar in Viet Nam. Our flak jackets weighed a ton, put a steel helmet on top of that and a 60lb. pack on your back in a jungle. It did build character while protecting your body.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Try wearing a flack jacket with ceramic plates, a Kevlar helmet, and 40+ pounds of additional gear in the desert for a year deployment. Then you can talk about how hot it is while on "patrol."


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

thank you


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Yet another reason the average beat cop deserves our respect. They face lunatics, criminals, and fools, and, in spite of the heat, are cool and courteous to the rest of us day in and day out.


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Sounds like good advice for people too! "I am the proud owner of two rescued dogs, but I would never subject them to the Art Fair."


Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 10:20 a.m.

Those vests are murder to wear.I would take mine off in the station.You can feel the heat going up into your face when you pull it open by the collar.