Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Fashion Police

From the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

Nice pants, Keith Schwartz thought when he came across a pair of second-hand slacks at a local thrift shop.

Grand Traverse County sheriff’s officials didn’t agree with his sartorial choice, however. After spying Schwartz in the well-worn brown britches with the distinctive leg stripes, a detective ran his name through a criminal computer and later showed up at his Traverse City residence to seize the pants.

The charge? Authorities hinted the pants could be used to impersonate an officer, said Schwartz, who added that people often wait for the punch line when he tells the story.

“I certainly appreciate the humor of it all, but I also worry about the dark undertones this has,” he said.

Schwartz was running errands in Traverse City early last month when a plainclothes sheriff’s detective approached him about his pants – brown, sheriff-style uniform trousers he bought months earlier at a local Goodwill outlet.

He’d paid $3.25 for the pants because they seemed durable and comfortable enough to wear during his nighttime gig cleaning office buildings.

Clad in tennis shoes and riding a moped, Schwartz said he resembled anything but a police officer.

But detective Dawn Wagoner stopped Schwartz and ran a background check on him. She didn’t know if it was illegal for him to have the pants, but she told Schwartz to expect additional contact from authorities.

“It was extremely surreal. I thought it was a joke,” he said.

Days later, Wagoner – under the direction of Undersheriff Nathan Alger – appeared at Schwartz’s home and requested the pants.

Wagoner offered to pay for them, but Schwartz’s befuddled wife turned them over, no cost to the sheriff’s department, he said.

“These pants were not in pristine condition,” said Schwartz, 47. “The stripe was actually coming off.”


Schwartz wonders what can and can’t be worn, considering that items like hats and shirts with logos of the New York City police and fire departments are fashionable to wear and uniforms of all kinds are readily available at surplus stores and online.

“It would have been different if I was wearing an insignia or something that said this was an official uniform, but they were no different than any other pants you could go out and buy,” Schwartz said. “It is the whole issue of government sticking its nose into private lives where it shouldn’t be … it is ridiculous.”

I agree. No one wants the government sticking its nose into your pants.