Taxpayer dollars paying for clothing budget of local police

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RICHMOND, Va. -- When most people think of police, someone in uniform probably comes to mind.

But some officers wear suits to work.

CBS 6 has discovered those blazers, slacks, and ties are likely being paid for, by you.

Why you could be paying more, depends on where you live.

And a CBS 6 investigation found those jackets and ties are likely being paid for by taxpayers.

"I did have a police officer years ago buy a very nice Italian suit from us," said a salesperson at Franco’s suit shop in metro Richmond. "We’ve had in the last couple years the police officers come in and get a few things.”

These suit selling connoisseurs are no stranger to the perk. In fact, it's well known sergeants and detectives in our area receive a clothing allowance on top of their salary.

So just how much is being spent? Through a freedom of information act request, CBS  6 learned that each sworn officer in the city of Richmond gets $250 a year for clothes.

On a force with nearly 700, that's over $173,000 annually.

For Chesterfield Police, the right to buy taxpayer funded shirts and shoes is more like an exclusive club.

In 2014 just 26 officers qualified for the $600 a year allowance.

But no area police force allows officers to spend as much as Henrico, where 133 men and women in the non-uniform division get $1200 a year to spend on their wardrobe.

That’s nearly five times more than what their counterparts in Richmond receive.

While the Henrico board of supervisors declined an on camera interview, as did the county police chief. But, Chief Douglas A. Middleton did email us: “the program is a privilege for officers assigned to a pre-approved plain clothes assignment in lieu of a uniform.”

When asked if he got a clothing allowance? Chesterfield police officer Kevin Carrol said that he does and he defended the practice. Carroll is president of Virginia’s fraternal order of police.

"Uniforms are provided by most municipalities to law enforcement officers to wear every day.  On the other hand, we require people to wear a suit and tie every day,” Carrol added. “If a detective gets in a fight with someone and ruins a suit then a clothing allowance helps replace the clothes that get ruined.”

Carroll says police wear suits to go to court, and to investigate crimes when a uniform is a distraction.

“I’ve heard many victims over the years say, ‘you really carry yourself well you present yourself well, ‘" said Carrol. “Police officers regardless of what people think -- they don't get paid big bucks?”

Taxpayer Willy Solomon says everyone wants to look their best. But he says if teachers have to buy their own clothes, officers should to.

"I don't think it’s a necessity," explained Solomon.

But, Bob Dickerson says, let’s cut the cops a break. A suit makes a person confidant. And a confidant cop makes for a safer neighborhood. And that suits him just fine.

“If you feel good in your clothes you are better able to communicate with people,” Dickerson said.

While it appears this clothing allowance will remain in next year’s budget in our area cities and counties, we’ve learned some departments have scrapped it all together. The Henrico Sheriff’s Department says they just can't afford perks like that anymore.

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