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Edward D. Reuss
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Law Enforcement Id Jackets

By Capt. Frank A. Bolz, Jr. NYPD, Ret .

Not a day goes by that we donít see Federal, state or local police officers engaged in a law enforcement operation wearing wind-breakers, with the word "POLICE", "FBI", or "SHERIFF" emblazoned on their backs. This year, 2009, will mark the 36th anniversary of the first ID wind-breaker to be used as part of  law enforcement equipment.

The need for a quick, inexpensive, unmistakable means of identification at a hostage, barricade or other major incident, was driven home to this writer in the early spring of 1973. As the Commander of the N.Y.P.D.ís newly formed Hostage Negotiation Team, myself and some of the other negotiators assigned to the unit, responded to the report of a bank robbery in East Harlem. By the time we arrived at the scene, a lot had taken place. One of the perpetrators had been shot and killed and was lying at the curb, in a pool of blood, in front of the bank.

Two other perpetrators were still inside the bank holding a number of employees and customers hostage. The tactical perimeters had been set up, however the outer perimeters were very "porous", so that many civilians were walking around the incident area, including some grade school kids.

A number of these kids were peering through a chain link fence, over the shoulders of a tactical team unit that was only 20 feet closer to the bank than they were.

A local TV reporter had been requested by the perps, and would get to the scene before we arrived. He would be allowed to negotiate with the two still in the bank. Fortunately this reporter had previously been a police officer.

There would be, in this, one of the early "jobs", a lot of violations of the rudiments of hostage recovery. Besides the poor outer perimeter, almost every responding officer in uniform or in civilian clothes, would be walking around with an unholstered hand gun.

The description of the perpetrators was 3/M/B armed with handguns. Two of the negotiators who had responded with me from Brooklyn, were black and were also walking around with unholstered guns inside the loosely set perimeters. In a small department, officers would know the other members of their organization by sight, if not name. Even in NYC most precinct officers would know their precinct colleagues by sight. But in a department with over 30,000 people, you couldnít possibly know everyone, especially from a different borough. These elements all added up to a tragedy, waiting to happen. (A year of so earlier, in Jamaica, Queens, a black undercover officer was shot by two other officers who didnít know or recognize him. Their verbal command for the U.C.O., who was effecting an arrest, to drop the gun, was given in the street vernacular. As the U.C.O. turned, with his service weapon in his hand, to see where and from whom that command was coming from, he was shot by the officers.

The bank incident ended successfully with all the hostages released, our negotiators talking, and no further injuries.

That is except for the bruised wrist of one of the perps who was the object of a tug of war between the precinct detective with one handcuff on one of the perpís wrist and an F.B.I., agentís cuff on the other wrist. A "Captain Solomon" finally handled it with an F.O.A. (for other authorities) arrest for the precinct detective, and a Federal bank robbery arrest for the agent.

Seeing what was taking place at the bank, and remembering the Jamaica undercover incident I knew that we had to do something to I.D. our people. From a good friend, I had just received a dozen "Paul Jones Whiskey" give away premiums. These were lightweight, blue, nylon wind-breaker jackets.

One night while at home, watching a police show on TV, I cut a stencil from a manila file folder. It was the word "POLICE" in 3 inch block letters. Using a spray can of white paint, I painted the word "POLICE" on the back of a jacket. I asked my wife to sew NYPD shoulder patches on both shoulders and one on the left breast to cover the "PJ" logo. (On later jackets we would use the NYPD Detective shield with the letters DBHNT, Detective Bureau Hostage Negotiation Team) and so the I.D. jacket was born.

My wife and I made up another Ĺ dozen jackets, and I would bring them to the scenes of subsequent hostage jobs. Eventually, our Chief of Detectives, who at first was not very enthusiastic (he thought detectives might wear the jackets to go bowling) and with the persuasion of Sgt. John Byron, the CoD procurement officer, OKíed the purchase of jackets for every team member and extras for any "Bosses" who might show up at an incident in civilian clothes. Thus the I.D. jackets were put "on line".

A short time later, recognizing that the police hat is the single most identifying piece of police uniform, we took a couple of blue baseball caps and sewed NYPD patches on them to go with the wind-breakers.

Itís hard to say how many lives may have been saved by these simple innovations, hopefully there have been some. We are happy that what we have shared may have helped.

An aggressive training program was implemented by the NYPD at the firing range, the police academy, in service training and roll call training, to always use the phrase, "POLICE DONíT MOVE". On every Police Department bulletin board, and on the labels on every personnel locker was the phrase, "POLICE DONíT MOVE".

There after any U.C.O. or off duty officer, upon hearing that command would I.D. him or herself before turning.

About the writer :

Captain Frank A. Bolz Jr, NYPD, Ret
is one of the founders of the NYPD Hostage Program, in 1972. He became the Commanding Officer and Chief Negotiator of the Hostage Negotiation Team . In his 10 years in those roles, he negotiated more than 285 incidents without a single loss of a single Hostage or Police Officer. Frank to this day shares his experience and wisdom in hostage negotiations and kidnapping situations through training seminars conducted all over the world.

This article is protected by copy write laws and is posted with the written permission of Frank A. Bolz Jr. 

Copyright © 2009 Frank A . Bolz Jr.


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