Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Car. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Car. Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is spending $300,000 on small changes to belt buckles and other metal items on law enforcement uniforms to make deputies safer and look more professional, but the department’s big bosses are running into a buzz-saw of outrage from the union representing rank-and-file deputies.

The taxpayer dollars won’t go toward tools such as higher-quality ballistic vests, backup guns or body cameras. Instead, Sheriff  Jim McDonnell is spending the money on a minor cosmetic makeover of deputies’ uniforms: changing the color of their belt buckles and other metal pieces of gear from silver to gold, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That way, the metallic bits, which are made of brass, will match the gold-hued tie clips, lapel pins and six-pointed star badges that deputies already wear, McDonnell said, according to The Times.

The sheriff says the change is important to maintaining a professional look for deputies on the job, but the move has generated criticism among some rank-and-file deputies and others who argue that it’s a misuse of money at a time when the department is struggling to deal with more fundamental problems than the appearance of its patrol deputies, according to The Times.

Officials with the union that represents the bulk of the department’s 9,100 deputies note that the agency is facing a chronic staff shortage and a recurring budget deficit, The Times reported. For the several years, the department has been keeping about 1,000 professional staff and 300 deputy positions unfilled so that it can overcome a yearly $250 million shortfall. As a result, deputies are often required to work back-to-back shifts.

“This (expenditure) is something that would be better suited to a department that’s running like a well-oiled machine, but not a department that’s in turmoil,” said Detective Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, according to The Times.

McDonnell defended the changes, The Times reported, saying the coordinated gold-colored buckles, belt snaps, baton rings and key holders would “finish off the uniform” and better convey to a suspect that a deputy is in control.

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