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Cowlitz County Sheriff's deputies get new uniforms

Cowlitz County Sergeant Fred Taylor, left, and Deputy Ryan Plank, right, pose for a photo in their new uniforms outside the hall of justice on Tuesday.

If you’ve spoken to a deputy from the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office recently, you might have noticed they’ve swapped out their traditional tan-and-gold uniforms and badges for black shirts and more toned down badges.

The new uniform standard is part of a move to make “uniforms more uniform” and to increase safety during potentially dangerous situations, deputies said. It was implemented in January by Sheriff Brad Thurman on the recommendation of a deputy committee, and the new look matches similar dark blue attire at Cowlitz County’s city police departments.

Deputy Brady Spaulding, who was on the deputy committee, said deputies wanted something that was more tactical, especially at night, but which would “still show who we are” to the public.

Previous uniforms featured gold lettering that stood out and colors like tan and silver which weren’t always a consistent shade between deputies, Spaulding and other deputies said.

“We were looking for something a little more subdued,” Spaulding said.

For formal events such as court appearances and funerals, deputies will still use their tan and silver attire, Spaulding said, along with ties and badges. Administrative staff like Thurman will also be making the uniform shift, Thurman said, although for now he’s still sporting the tan shirt.

The sheriff’s office offers deputies a uniform allowance each year to update their clothes, and Thurman said he included the uniform switch-over in that budget this year. That amounted to roughly $4,000 this year, he said.

Sergeant Fred Taylor and Deputy Ryan Plank, 22- and 17-year full time members of the sheriff’s office respectively, said deputies were eager to have a more consistent look and shirts made from more breathable material.

“We ended up with a lot of uniforms that weren’t uniform,” Taylor said. “Not purchased at the same place, maybe a different manufacturer or make.”

Lighter colors reflect more at night, Taylor said, which is why many deputies in the sheriff’s office switched to black undershirts many years ago. But a uniform needs to balance tactical advantages — like making oneself less of a target — with the need to be easily identifiable by the public, Taylor said.

“There’s times where we need to be visible, and we need people to know where we’re at and who we are, which is not always tactically advantageous,” Taylor said. “But there’s times where we can and need to be a little more discreet, for our safety.”

Taylor said all the feedback he’s gotten from the public so far has been positive.

And while the new uniforms dry faster, are more breathable and provide a bit of a tactical edge, Taylor and Plank said they haven’t fundamentally changed anything about how deputies do the job.

“They see your car before they see you,” Plank said.

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