Raleigh, NC – The newly-elected Wake County sheriff has prohibited all sheriff’s office personnel from wearing sunglasses – even on top of their heads - when talking to members of the public.
Wake County Sheriff’s Captain Teddy Patrick wrote a memo on behalf of Sheriff Gerald Baker on March 29 that announced the new policy to the department.
“Per Sheriff Baker’s directive: Effective immediately, while conducting official business on behalf of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, sunglasses are no longer allowed to be worn atop of the head/forehead area or worn on the face while conducting official business when engaging the public or citizens of this County. Should you have any questions, please contact your direct supervisor,” the memo read.
David Blackwelder, who is running against Sheriff Baker in the next election, posted a copy of the sunglasses memo to his campaign Facebook page with the caption “misplaced priorities.”
Blackwelder, who has been a police officer with another local department for nine years, said that the edict supported one of the sheriff’s pet peeves.
“He just doesn’t agree with people wearing their sunglasses while dealing with the public. He believes that officers should look at them directly with their eyes,” he said.
That's something that deputies could still do if they were allowed to lift their glasses up on their head when talking to people. However the sheriff's policy doesn't allow for that.
“We’re cops, we’re outside, we’re going to be wearing sunglasses,” Blackwelder said. “Your sunglasses are basically part of your uniform.”
The man who declared an early challenge to Sheriff Baker for the 2022 election said that the no sunglasses rule is just one more thing to worry about when trying to stay safe on duty.
Blue Lives Matter tried to reach Sheriff Baker for an explanation of the new policy and did not receive a response.
But an experienced member of law enforcement called the no sunglasses policy “tactically unsound.”
“There are several reasons why officers should wear sunglasses on duty,” retired Washington Metro Transit Police Captain William Malone explained. “First and foremost, there’s a tactical advantage to being able to look around and observe everything at a scene without the suspects knowing what you’re looking at. And what you’re not looking at.”
“If an officer stops a car with three suspects in it, the guy in the backseat doesn’t need to know when the officer isn’t looking at him so he can hide a gun,” Malone said.
“Also, most quality sunglasses offer protection against minor impacts and will protect officers’ eyes from dirt, sand, and debris that may blow on the side of the road during a traffic stop,” he said. “Some of the lenses will actually protect you from a pellet gun.”
Malone said that when officers are chasing a suspect and transitioning from inside to outside, or from reduced light to bright light, a lack of sunglasses may hamper their vision and put them in danger.
He also pointed out that many officers spend the bulk of their careers outside where the sun’s damaging ultra-violet rays will cause damage with long-term exposure.
Malone said there can be logic for banning tinted eyewear in certain places. For example, Metro Transit police officers were banned from wearing sunglasses inside underground Metro stations where it might limit their vision.
But he said banning sunglasses for officers performing their duties outside was short-sighted and tactically unsound.
“It’s just a stupid rule,” said the former SWAT team commander.
Sheriff Baker’s opposition for the next election has said the new policy is just another example of bad priorities.
“Of all the things happening in Wake County – shootings and crimes in the community - this is what the sheriff is worried about,” Blackwelder complained. “Of all things you can do to improve officer and citizen safety, Sheriff Baker sends out a you-shall-not-have-sunglasses-on policy memo. Really, is that where we need to go with this?”
Blackwelder said he has bumped heads with the sheriff in the past when representing a local law enforcement advocacy group. He called the memo “unsurprising.”
“I think it’s on par with his leadership style and I think it’s ridiculous,” he said.