Heat a serious occupational hazard for vest-wearing cops, police dogs

When it’s 90 degrees out, like the forecast calls for today, who wants be out in the heat wearing a synthetic, close-fitting 5-pound vest?

Our guess is nobody. But that’s what police officers do anytime they are out of the office, scorching temps notwithstanding.

Those vests get hot, wet and funky. Just ask Aurora community policing Sgt. Chris Whitfield. In June, he worked a festival for two straight days, followed by a shift at a parade, all with temperatures hovering around 90.

“The vest that I had on was wet and soaking all weekend long,” Whitfield said.

Heat is just another occupational hazard for law enforcement officers, but the human members of our police departments aren’t alone in battling the high temperatures. Heat exhaustion is the leading cause of on-duty deaths for police dogs.

“When you take the job, you know that it (working in hot and cold weather) is part of the job,” said Whitfield, recalling a colleague who worked a July 4 shift last year in long sleeves to cover a poison-sumac rash.

“He still stayed out in the heat and got it done,” Whitfield said.

Fortunately, there have been improvements in the comfort of vests since they first hit the market in the 1970s and became widely used in the ’90s. Back then, vests were heavier, thicker and typically worn underneath uniforms.

These days, officers can wear vests in external carriers that can be removed or even loosened at times to let in some air. Officers also can wear special moisture-wicking undershirts or sprinkle themselves with baby powder to deal with the sweat and avoid rashes.

There also is the Cool Cop Body Armor gadget. The device connects a 6-foot hose to the air vents in a patrol vehicle to shoot cool air underneath a vest.

Six departments we checked with require officers to wear their protection anytime they are out of the police building and dealing with the public. Sugar Grove Sgt. Kurtis Gilkey said it’s a requirement of the agencies that give his department grants to buy vests.

“It’s an absolute necessity nowadays,” Batavia Detective Michelle Langston said of protective vests. “I can’t help anybody if I’m hurt.”

Hot dogs

For police dogs, extreme heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be deadly.

Since 2013, heat exhaustion has been the most common cause of on-duty police dogs deaths, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. In the past 5½ years, 42 dogs have died on the job from heat-related causes, well ahead of the second-leading cause, gunfire (33).

Among the dogs who’ve succumbed to the heat was Drago, a member of the Cook County Forest Preserve’s police force. Drago died in June 2017 when the air conditioner in his handler’s vehicle failed while the officer was dealing with an arrested man inside the Oak Forest police station.

So far this year, however, only one police dog has died from heat exhaustion in the line of duty. That occurred July 4 in Hendricks County, Indiana, when a police dog suffered heat stroke while tracking a suspect.

Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Wolf is the handler for Tyront, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois. Tyront has a bullet- and knife-resistant vest that contains Kevlar. But unlike Wolf, Tyront does not wear the vest all the time, to avoid overheating.
– Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

A bit of good news: Unlike their handlers, police dogs don’t have to wear protective vests at all times.

Because canines can’t cool themselves by sweating, dogs such as the Kane County sheriff’s Tyront wears his vest only when absolutely necessary, handler Deputy Nick Wolf told us.

The hotter police dogs get, the slower (and less enthusiastic) they get about doing their tasks, he said.

Human sacrifice

How hot can a locked-up car get when left out in the sun on a sweltering day? Huntley police officer Brock Larkin recently suffered through the experience while filming a public-safety video demonstrating how quickly the interior of a vehicle can heat up.

He stayed in a closed squad for 30 minutes on an 88-degree day. When time was up, a sweaty Larkin emerged from a vehicle cabin that had reached 135 degrees.

“It was really uncomfortable. I was sweating through my vest,” he said, adding that his polyester uniform didn’t help matters. “It just keeps the heat in.”

The video can be found on the police department’s Facebook page, facebook.com/HuntleyPolice. Besides showing how hot it gets, Larkin explains how a pet owner can be charged with animal cruelty for leaving an animal in a closed car during hot weather. He also noted it’s illegal for a passer-by to break a window to get in and rescue the dog, so call police instead.

Not smart playing dumb

William J. Ross failed to persuade a state appeals court he deserves a new trial for the slaying of former girlfriend Jacqueline Schaefer. Ross, formerly of McHenry, is serving a 49-year sentence for the killing.

William J. Ross tried to play dumb when police interrogated him after his former girlfriend was found shot to death and entombed in his McHenry home.

It turned out to be an unwise decision.

In a unanimous ruling to uphold Ross’ 2016 murder conviction and 49-year sentence, a state appeals court this month found that Ross was faking confusion as investigators read him his rights and questioned him about the slaying of Jacqueline Schaefer.

The 49-year-old woman’s skeletal remains were found in late 2013 in a bedroom sealed with caulk, molding and paint. Authorities believe she had been killed more than a year earlier, before Ross abandoned the home for a cross-country journey.

Tracked down in Las Vegas about a week after the body was discovered, Ross declared his innocence, then verbally sparred with detectives over his rights to remain silent, have an attorney, etc. At various points, Ross told investigators, “I don’t like those rights,” “Some of them don’t make sense,” and “Well, some should be changed.”

In his appeal, Ross argued he should get a new trial because police questioned him despite him not understanding his rights. The appellate court wasn’t buying it, though. Justices noted that Ross attended Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago and received an MBA from DePaul University. He then had a lengthy career as a sales executive.

“The inconsistency and shifting focus of his answers reasonably reflect … a feigned misunderstanding of his rights,” Justice Ann B. Jorgensen wrote in the 59-page decision.

Ross, 66, is serving his time at the Dixon Correctional Center. He’s not eligible for parole until 2063.

Scam won’t go away

Tax season may be over, but scam season never ends. And that means suburban residents are still getting IRS scam calls, including recent reports of them in Arlington Heights.

Here’s how they work: Someone calls your home claiming to be a representative of the IRS, saying you owe unpaid taxes, a warrant is about to be issued, and you’ll be arrested for tax evasion. But, the person says, you can avoid all that by sending money, typically through wire transfers, iTunes gift cards or Green Dot, MoneyPak or Reloadit prepaid debit cards.

Of course, none of this is true. No legitimate IRS official will call you demanding money, and the agency doesn’t accept gift cards and the like as payment for overdue taxes. If you get a call like this, federal officials say you should hang up and report it to law enforcement or the Treasury Department’s scam reporting page, www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.

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