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Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Jail staff, inmates both have the blues

By Jennifer Sullivan
Times Snohomish County bureau

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EVERETT | Snohomish County Corrections officers are sporting new uniforms that cost more than the department's uniform budget — and match the color of most inmates' jumpsuits.

The navy-blue duds are the officers' first change in uniforms in more than 25 years.

Jail director Steve Thompson said uniforms for 191 people — the rank and file, the command staff and the county's color guard — cost about $85,000. The purchases used up the department's annual uniform budget of $60,000; the other $25,000 came from leftover money originally intended for other uses.

"This is part of our whole effort to transform the whole department into a professional corrections operation," Thompson said. "It's a more professional law- enforcement look."

Thompson said he doesn't see a problem with officers wearing the same color as most inmates. He said the jail operates on a color scheme: Inmates dressed in tan are minimal security risks; light blue is for those who serve time at the Indian Ridge low-security complex near Arlington; orange is for high-security inmates; and red and maroon are for inmate workers. Most of the general-population inmates wear navy blue.

At some point, Thompson said, the jail may overhaul inmates' uniforms.

"You won't have a problem [telling a difference] because the staff uniforms have gold on the arm sleeves," Thompson said.

Corrections Officer Marcus Dill said he has heard "minor rumblings" from co-workers who are concerned about wearing the same color as inmates.

"I would hope anybody could tell the difference between an officer in a uniform and an inmate in a uniform," Dill said. "The shiny star is a dead giveaway."
 
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Marjorie Owens, a policy program manager at the state Department of Corrections, said inmates in state-run institutions are prohibited from wearing camouflage, coveralls or outfits in the same shades of blue as those worn by officers. Unlike jail inmates, people serving time in state prisons don't wear uniforms.

"It has to do with security," Owens said.

"You can easily identify custody staff from the offenders."

Lynnwood Jail Cmdr. Don Cirino said his officers also wear navy-blue uniforms, but inmates there wear bright orange.

"We wouldn't intentionally choose the same color [of uniform for inmates] because there is that potential to confuse the dark-blue uniform of one with the dark-blue uniform of the other," he said.

Dill, who sat on the county's uniform-selection committee, said the new outfits have "perked up" many of his co-workers. He and Thompson said it's not uncommon to develop low morale while guarding some of Snohomish County's most dangerous offenders.

"This job is limited on variations," Dill said. "This is just something different."

Mark Blumenthal, a co-owner of Blumenthal Uniforms and Equipment in Seattle, with whom Snohomish County contracts for uniforms, said that before the change, Snohomish County Corrections was the only department in the state wearing its style of khaki and brown uniforms this year. Blumenthal said uniforms in brown and French blue were popular in the 1970s and '80s. He said navy and black are the top sellers now.

"People feel the darker colors are visually appealing," Blumenthal said. "I don't know if it's psychological or it's because they look more slim and trim in dark colors."

Blumenthal said Snohomish County Corrections officers now wear the identical uniform worn by corrections-staff members in King County. This year, Blumenthal added, Mercer Island police and the Pierce County Sheriff's Department have replaced lighter-colored uniforms with navy blue.

Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, whose deputies wear khaki shirts and forest-green pants, said he has no intention of switching to a darker color.

"I'm kind of a traditional person when it comes to what deputy sheriffs wear," Bart said. "The reason the deputy sheriff looks different from a police officer is because we have different jobs."

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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