CODY, Wyo. (Reuters) - Sheriff’s deputies in a western county of Wyoming, known for its official rodeo-rider logo and Cowboy State moniker, have been banned from wearing cowboy hats and boots under a new dress code that has prompted one longtime lawman to retire early.
Newly elected Sublette County Sheriff Stephen Haskell said he was surprised at the dust-up over his policy change, which was aimed at having consistent uniforms, rather than a variety of outfits that he said left his deputies looking like the “Skittles patrol.”
“All law enforcement is supposed to be professional and look the same,” said Haskell, who employs 68 deputies across a sprawling, rural county that covers nearly 5,000 square miles (12,950 sq km), but is home to only 10,000 residents.
Requiring rubber-soled shoes instead of cowboy-style leather boots that get less traction in ice and snow is also a matter of officer safety, he said.
The new dress code seemed for some to be at odds with the state’s image, including license plates featuring the silhouette of a rodeo rider atop a bucking bronco - a registered trademark that serves as a symbol of the state’s cultural identity.
Veteran deputy Gene Bryson, 70, a 28-year department veteran, was too fond of his cowboy hat, leather vest and cowboy boots to make the change to the new uniforms, and chose retirement instead of a makeover.
“When you take away my individuality, I don’t want to stay,” said Bryson, who grew up on a ranch and has spent a lifetime in law enforcement.
Haskell, 53, a longtime Wyoming resident who rode in the semi-pro rodeo circuit himself for seven years, said on Monday he often wears Western-style garb while off-duty. But he insisted the new dress code was otherwise well-received in his department and the community, and that no other deputy has refused to comply.
Bryson said he switched from patrol duty to courthouse security last year and had already planned to retire later this year anyway. Early retirement will allow him more time to focus on a gun store he owns in Marbleton, he said.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh