“My feet are killing me!” You have probably said it more than once after your shift ended. Maybe you have a foot patrol beat or perhaps you were standing at the perimeter of a barricaded suspect on a dark and stormy winter’s night. We never know where the next radio call will take us, so we must be ready for it all.
In a career as a uniformed first responder, our selection of footwear may be limited by a Department Uniform Policy. When I was a baby cop, before computers were in the cars, we were limited to footwear that had a “plain toe able to maintain a polished shine”. The Vietnam Era guys were retiring along with their jungle boots. Sure, they could hold a shine and they were pretty available at any military surplus store. But as far as offering comfort or support, they left a lot to be desired. By the end of my career, policy had changed and enforcement of those policies was often forgotten. People were wearing basically black tennis shoes. Not the most professional looking footwear but probably way more comfortable. I’m here to tell you that you really can be comfortable while maintaining a professional appearance!
Just like in training, defensive tactics, or firearms, they say “foundation is everything”. Well, aren’t your feet the foundation upon which we stand - literally speaking? Believe it or not, poor quality footwear can lead to back and knee injuries over a physically demanding career. And don’t you want to be comfortable?
Uniform footwear has come a long way over the last 25 years. The selection of the proper footwear for your working conditions can make the difference between being comfortable and being reminded how long your shift is with every step you take. Light and well-vented boots might be ideal work footwear for a cop in the dry desert areas of the Southwest but wouldn’t be ideal for the swamp conditions of the Southeast. But how in the world does one select the proper footwear? First, we should be very selfish – comfort is key. A shoe or boot needs to be comfortable and have flex points that match the way your foot moves. Do you want or need the ankle support of a boot? Will you be carrying a backup weapon in an ankle holster? Having worn an ankle holster in both a low top shoe and a boot, I found a boot to be a better option. I liked a wide toe box but then I found it could be difficult to climb a chain link because my boot toe wouldn’t fit into the opening in the fence. Just food for thought.
As a cop in Southern California, I was under the impression that there was really no need for my footwear to be waterproof because it’s always sunny and in the 70’s. But somehow I ended up getting my feet wet often, even if it was walking through the morning dew on a grass field. From that point on, I went with waterproof because it just made sense. GORE-TEX is an amazing product and even works well in hotter and drier environments. There are even side-zip boots that are water-resistant too.
But not only is the shoe or boot important, so is your selection of socks. I get a tad OCD when it comes to socks. Seams, materials, and thickness can be just as important as your boots. A seam that falls on a friction point can feel like a rock in your shoe. We all have our favorite brands. Find the socks that partner well with your selection of appropriate footwear. Get more than enough pairs, and carry an extra pair at work. I actually kept a complete spare uniform, including underwear, on-hand in case I needed it. I learned that one the hard way.
My chiropractor had me get two pairs of boots to alternate each day so that the materials would have time to regain their form. It worked wonders for my back too. With all of the manufacturers out there, it might take a few purchases to find the style that works for you. A simple trick is to look at what your coworkers are wearing and adjust to what works for you. Maybe not use the same exact boot, but something that has the same features that seem to work for your area.
I know it might seem silly to some to spend a lot of money on footwear, but we literally need to kick in doors so isn’t it worth it to be comfortable and safe?
Pete Stevens, Guest Blogger
Retired 32-year Law Enforcement Veteran and K9 Handler