One of the most frequent questions asked about the City of London Police uniform is, “What is that striped band on the left/right arm?” It is as a duty band or armlet and its history stretches back as early as modern policing itself.
When policing as we know it was first established, the public were extremely suspicious of these newly empowered officers of the law. They were very aware of the activities of the political police just across the Channel in France and so were convinced the sole purpose of the new English police was to spy on them and then report back to the authorities.
Consequently, to allay some of the public’s fears it seems police officers were required to wear their uniform at all times – both on and off duty – so their profession was immediately visible to all who might encounter them. As an aside, there is also evidence that City of London police officers were required to display a sign outside their house stating that a police officer resided there. Wearing uniform at all times brought its own problems – how could anyone distinguish between when an officer was on or off duty? And hence the duty band was born – it would be worn when the officer was on duty, and removed when the officer was off duty.
Over the years, the duty band has been on its travels – sometimes worn on the lower arm, sometimes on the upper arm, sometimes two bands worn simultaneously, one on each arm.
It has also been used as an indicator of rank. Worn only by PCs and Sergeants, a PC would display it on his left arm, the Sergeant on his right. When female officers were first recruited to the City of London, they would also wear a duty band, as evidenced by photographs from the time. However, duty bands for female officers appear to have disappeared around the time the force uniforms were re-designed by the Queen’s dress-maker, Norman Hartnell, in the early 70s.
It would seem that the duty band has also gradually disappeared from police uniforms across the country – with the sole exception of the City of London Police. Today, male police constables and sergeants of the force still display duty bands with stripes in the colours of the City of London – red and white – when wearing tunics for ceremonial and court duties.