High cost of red serge
It costs, on average, about $3,500 to dress up an officer in a standard kit
January 17, 2007
OTTAWA–Call them clothes-horsemen. Mounties sure do look sharp in those uniforms, don't they? They ought to.
In the past five years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has spent $58.4 million – or about $11.6 million a year on average – to outfit its members.
Seem like a lot?
At first glance, perhaps.
Given the Mounties turn out about 1,000 new recruits a year, and it costs, according to the RCMP, an average of about $3,500 to dress an officer with the standard clothing kit (for a total of about $3.5 million), $11.6 million seems about $8.1 million more than necessary.
Especially since officers have to pay for it themselves when shirts and other basic items like gloves need replacing.
But think of it this way, says Sgt. Sylvie Tremblay: Divide the remaining $8.1 million among the more than 19,000 uniformed and civilian members – like crime lab workers – who get some clothing replaced in the line of duty, and that works out to $426 a member.
That's got to cover the replacement of an officer's blood-stained patrol jacket, or any other lost or damaged gear.
The costs are no surprise to Cpl. Jacques Brunelle, who in 1994 wrote a book on the RCMP uniform – a design that's evolved from its British militia-issue origins to one of the top police kits in the world, he says.
"I've looked at the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia, and I think the RCMP outfit their people, in terms of quality, safety, comfort and warmth, at or near the top," says Brunelle.
The laundry list of official clothing is long – 166 items. It includes everything from Mountie-issue underwear to leather boots to the famous "Red Serge" dress uniform that's a national icon.
Still, you'd think not every officer needs every item on the list. Much would surely depend on whether one is posted to Labrador or the B.C. Sunshine Coast, or the job – dog handler, tactical officer, pilot, highway patrol or air marshal – that one does?
Not so. The basic clothing kit for every officer consists of 121 items, regular operational clothing and dress uniforms, says Tremblay. It does not include gun, handcuffs, baton or pepper spray, and other specialty items.
Compare that to the basic kit Toronto police issues to its officers. Const. Victor Kwong says it's made up of about 23 standard issue items – for the regular and dress uniforms – that nearly 10,000 police, parking enforcement and court officers wear.
Kwong could not supply the yearly costs of clothing for Toronto's police service members.
Brunelle said there's no question the RCMP kit is confusing to lay people.
What's more, said Brunelle, designs are constantly changing, sometimes in response to an investigation where an officer has been injured and gear or clothing were a factor.
"Even the parka has changed to accommodate the pistol. The older parkas, you had to unzip the parka or yank it up to get at your equipment. Now there's an opening where you can put it around the pistol on your holster so it's exposed all the time so you can draw it quicker."
All of which means there's a lot of clothes shopping to do. And the Mounties shop around.
The RCMP has sourced gear from up to 93 vendors, according to documents released under Access to Information legislation to researcher Ken Rubin.
Only one supplier is not Canadian: A company in Walsall, England has sold nearly $400,000 worth of "spurs, various" to the Mounties since 2001/02.
Every uniformed officer has them, to go on the brown Strathcona boots, whether they are part of the Musical Ride or not.
Tremblay said "there are no regional considerations" to the purchasing decisions. "Health and safety are the primary objective," she said.
All clothing-supply contracts are posted on MERX, the federal government's procurement website, and suppliers bid competitively for the work.
The suppliers themselves jealously guard their costs.
A spokesperson for Crown Cap of Winnipeg, maker of the trademark muskrat fur hats that the Mounties wear in winter, said the patterns and the cloth are supplied by the Mounties, while her company supplies the fur and assembly. She was reluctant to discuss costs.
Brunelle says the force wouldn't get the same quality gear if it used just one or two large suppliers. "Each company has (a) specialty. That's the only way they can get the quality for the lowest price."
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