Acting State Police Commissioner Marcus Brown has earned his job and his uniform | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Acting State Police Commissioner Marcus Brown has earned his job and his uniform

This is not about a uniform; it's about the progressive ideas on policing held by the man now wearing that uniform

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Left Marcus Brown Police
Images from the "He didn't earn it. He shouldn't wear it" Facebook page

Whether it's the first day of school or the first day at a new job, what you wear can help people form a first opinion of you.

So on his first day as the head of the Pennsylvania State Police, Marcus Brown's choice of wardrobe seemed an easy choice — he donned the storied gray uniform of the department to "honor the agency" that he would be leading, he said.

It turns out some of those troopers weren't honored. They were pissed. And Brown, a Penn State grad who previously served as a Baltimore City Police officer and as the head of the Maryland State Police, has spent the first few weeks of his tenure in a clash over office fashion.

Brown's choice of clothing prompted a group of former troopers to open up shop on social media to announce their displeasure over Brown's decision to wear a state police uniform. A page was formed on Facebook called "He didn't earn it He shouldn't wear it" (no punctuation required, apparently) to mobilize supporters to call their senators in an effort to block Brown's confirmation.

On the page, the former troopers call Brown a "clown" and make comments like: "Brown we are coming for you!" and "He is not and never will be one of us!! We must keep it that way."

And there it is — "one of us." It's the same old "us vs. them" mentality that we've seen from police officers across the country. This entire ruckus isn't about wearing a state police uniform. It's about the progressive ideas on policing held by the man now wearing that uniform.

Brown's not some poseur. He's not an academic who was placed in this position of power because he has new ideas about policing. He's a cop with decades of experience under his belt. He also seems to be a forward-thinking man in a similar vein to Cameron McLay, the new Pittsburgh Police chief. McLay also caught flack from within his own ranks, because he had a meaningful conversation with protesters and was photographed holding up a sign indicating that he was against racism in the workplace. How dare he!

For Brown's part, he actively worked to recruit women and minorities into the Maryland State Police. And diversity in the ranks is a goal of Gov. Tom Wolf. Critics are also upset that Brown might have reasonable beliefs when it comes to firearm ownership.

He was Maryland's top cop when a sweeping gun-control bill came to the state that would ban assault rifles, among other restrictions. And even though Brown supports the Second Amendment, he backed the law as a "comprehensive approach to the firearms struggles that we have in this country and the firearms violence associated with that," according to his statements from a 2013 online town-hall meeting.

Brown has also raised the ire of critics, including state Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery), for comments he made during a roundtable discussion on the police use of military-type equipment to deal with civil unrest, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. During the meeting, which occurred after events in Ferguson, Mo., Brown said: "The vast majority of civil disobedience in this country is sparked by law enforcement. If there are not restraints in these situations, the actions of law enforcement can further escalate the overall conditions."

Statements like these have former, and likely some current, troopers afraid to have Brown at the top of their ranks. Good. I'm glad. There needs to be a shift in power at the top of our police forces so people recognize that the same old, same old isn't working out for anyone who isn't wearing a uniform. There must be new ideas and new strategies.

Police officers might be the ones wearing those uniforms, but they need to remember that it doesn't belong to them. That uniform — be it gray, blue, black — belongs to us, the tax-paying public. And I, for one, have heard enough about Marcus Brown to believe that he has already earned it.