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How to buy footwear

Like any other piece of tactical apparel, footwear is designed for specific missions. You wouldn’t wear combat boots while working undercover, just like you wouldn’t wear cleats on a basketball court. Footwear is just as important to law enforcement officers as it is to athletes, though an officer’s shoes are much less flashy and much more utilitarian, and even in some cases more expensive.

When looking at buying a new pair of boots, here is what you should be thinking about:

1. Height: As we all know, shoes come not only in various sizes, but in different heights. A shoe’s height can be just as important as its fit since height is what determines your mobility and ankle support.

Low cut — Low cut footwear is typically used for walking, or if the officer is sitting down for long periods of time. Low cut footwear does little, if anything, to support the ankle, but the shoes are comfortable.

Mid cut — Mid cut footwear is typically used for mild walking/light running or if the officer is likely to have physical confrontations. Mid cut footwear offers better ankle support then low cut.

High top — High top footwear is typically used for all purpose terrain, hiking/running or if the officer is likely to have physical confrontations where kicking is likely. High top footwear offers the most in terms of ankle support.

2. Eyelets: As small as they are, eyelets in shoes are an important factor in determining a boot’s durability. There are three types – loop, hook, and speed laces – and they all come in either metal or plastic. Each have their cons, with some cutting into laces more than others, some not securing the laces, and others tearing into the footwear.

3. Soles: Worn-out soles are the most common reasons for replacing boots. If you don’t want to keep replacing your boots every three months, investing in the soles of your footwear is worth it.

Manufactured soles are often not as long lasting as other commercial soles. Also, heels wear down more quickly than the rest of the sole, so it’s suggested that you purchase heel tips along with your shoes.

Some manufacturers offer soles with special attributes, such as non-slip surfaces, which are worth assessing.

Some soles when wet make sounds on certain surfaces, so if your work requires stealth every so often, you’ll want to wear the boots around to see how squeaky they are and ensure the store where you purchased them has a return policy.

4. Inserts: One who spends time on their feet all day should pay plenty of attention to the arch support in their footwear, ensuring that each shoe comes with an insert that provides proper support. To ensure your arch receives the support it needs, having additional inserts on hand is highly recommended.

Some boots and shoes have padded heels, which help support your bridges.

5. Toe support: Toes are under-recognized for their importance – without them, you wouldn’t be able to stand up straight – so it’s so essential that you remember to keep them protected. It’s worth the effort to inspect the construction of the toe area when purchasing a pair of boots and to consider investing in steel toe-shank protection, which protects your toes from heavy objects.

6. Arch Support: This is one of main problems associated with comfort when wearing any type of footwear. The constant movement, bending, pivoting, changing direction all take a toll on foot and can reflect directly in balance which is essential for selecting any type of footwear.

7. Flammability: Any officer may come into contact with other items or material that are on fire and or extremely hot and stomping or kicking some out, this becomes more of a safety concern.

8. Water Resistant: This is an area that should be a main concern of any officer working in or around water, like the marine or boat patrol. Certain footwear absorbs and retains water more than other types of footwear, which can weigh you down when you fall in the water or decrease your traction on slippery surfaces.

9. Color: This is both an officer safety issue and uniform concern. Footwear in general should complement the officer’s appearance without jeopardizing his safety. For example, reflective strips on footwear are great for a search and recovery missions where you want to highlight the officer’s location; however, when searching a building, this can be risky.

10. Product warranty: With any product you will spend some time researching, talking with manufacturers or acquaintances that are knowledgeable on the subject, and then purchase a product. Ask the right questions and make sure you understand the product’s warranties and the seller’s return policies before you make the purchase. Be wary of companies who do not have these product warranties – if you are placing your life on the line by buying their product, they should at least put their word behind it.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and evaluating footwear? Please leave a comment below or email products@policeone.com with your feedback.

Departments can apply for 2009 ARRA "Stimulus" funding to purchase footwear. Visit PoliceGrantsHelp to learn how.

PoliceOne columnist Dave Young helped contribute to this report.

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