The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated that federal law enforcement officers (LEOs) will stop wearing camouflage clothing that is normally associated with the military. This decision comes after LEOs were criticized for looking too much like troops.

Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli addressed senators during his Tuesday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said the agents would transition away from military uniforms beginning with the remaining federal agents stationed in Portland Ore.

“To address concerns about the military-like appearance of some of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) officers’ uniforms, which are the normal uniforms used by some CBP teams in the course of regular duty, we are moving rapidly to replace those uniforms for those [sic] personnel,” Secretary Cuccinelli said.

Some of the criticism for federal LEOs wearing military-style uniforms came from the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed concern over police looking too much like military troops when responding to protests and riots. 

“We want a system where people can tell the difference,” Esper said to reporters a few weeks ago during a press conference.

“They need to stop this charade and stop pretending they’re the military. They need to put their ICE [Immgraton and Customs Enforcement] uniforms and CBP uniforms back on,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) a Marine Corps veteran and a member of the House Armed Services Committee said to the Washington Post. 

Pentagon is having qualms about police officers with military gear

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Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, who commanded the military’s and Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also strongly opposed the practice of LEOs wearing military garb.

He said in late July that the uniforms were being used to make the agents “look like warriors.” Honoré added that they were being used “as an instrument of protest suppression.”

Portland has been a flashpoint between the state, local and federal governments. Protests have been ongoing in the city for two months now, many of them turning violent. When federal buildings and property, including the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse, were threatened and became the site of frequent vandalism and property destruction, President Trump sent in upwards of 100 federal agents to protect federal property. 

Their presence was roundly disapproved by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Governor Kate Brown, who accused the feds of exacerbating the violence. Wheeler refused to even meet with DHS officials in Portland.

Several agents were blinded by rioters aiming lasers right in their eyes. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan blasted Wheeler in a television interview for his stance.

“That’s not a leader, that’s a 10-year-old,” Morgan said about Wheeler on Fox News.

Last week, Governor Brown announced that federal law enforcement officers will begin leaving Portland and the security for the federal buildings would fall to the Oregon State Police. But President Trump announced that federal agents would not actually be leaving, just placed on standby until the violence against federal property is over. 

The above notwithstanding, the wearing of camouflage uniforms in an urban environment is unnecessary. In the past, law enforcement officers have worn uniforms that were just as functional to conduct urban operations and riot control without looking like military troops. Those types of uniforms and the corresponding patches readily identify them as law enforcement officers. The value of digital or MultiCam camouflage in an urban environment is dubious at best.