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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Police helmets get makeover
Police in uniform
Traditional helmets would still be worn in Downing Street
The world famous image of Britain's bobbies in their distinctive helmets could soon be resigned to policing history.

Police chiefs are investigating replacing the familiar 12-inch tall helmet for something shorter and less cumbersome, to offer greater protection to officers.

Policemen and women have criticised the traditional felt design, which dates back to 1863, for being too wobbly, falling off too easily and not offering sufficient protection.

Graphic of prototype helmet
Helmets could lose their trademark height
Ministers have now given the go-ahead for a modified design to be developed, with a view to it being tested by forces around the country.

A change in headgear would bring to an end a British policing tradition dating back almost 140 years.

New helmets will be designed to give officers greater protection against criminals and street violence.

A Home Office spokeswoman said a 'squashed' version of the traditional helmet was being tested.

Prototypes have a similar shape but take an estimated four inches off the height of male officers' helmets and are designed to be more robust.

Toughened plastic

It is understood they will be made from a lightweight fabric and toughened plastic.

There could also be a tougher version of the hats issued to female officers and reinforced baseball hats for specialist units.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the plans are still at a 'conceptual' stage.

Trials are due to start later this year at police forces across the country.

Helmet history
1829: London police force founded, leather top hat worn
1863: Felt 'bowler hat' style adopted
2002: 'Squashed' helmets under tests

The spokeswoman said: "Standards and specifications are constantly monitored to ensure that all headgear is fit for the purpose and affords the appropriate level of protection, including complying with health and safety legislation.

"The trials are part of the on-going evaluation and improvement process undergone by all equipment for police use."

It is believed that if new helmets get the green light, traditional ones will still be worn during ceremonial duties and by officers at Downing Street.

The helmets currently used were introduced as an alternative to those issued when London's police force was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel.

In those early days, policemen wore leather top hats which caused headaches and split easily.

The helmets of today are believed to have been based on a design which was in use by the Prussian army.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | England
Police become caped crusaders
27 Aug 01 | UK
Uniform plan for detectives
05 Sep 00 | UK
The police uniform blues?
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