Hip NYPD officer's clothes grab online attention

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2011 10:56 PM
Hip NYPD officer's clothes grab online attention

There have been a lot of police officers keeping an eye on the Occupy Wall Street protest and a lot of protesters keeping their eyes on the police _ but probably only one officer who's been looked at for what he's wearing as much as what he's doing.

A plainclothes officer who's been working as a community affairs agent at the lower Manhattan protest is gaining some Internet fame for his un-stereotypical appearance, like a cool college professor.

Detective Rick Lee has been nicknamed the Hipster Cop online in tongue-in-cheek blog posts due to his more-fashionable-than-your-average-officer look, replete with cardigans, skinny ties, professorial-style glasses and side-swept hair.

Lee, 45, said people have a perception of police officers as old and staid and "then they meet me, they're like, `Oh, he's cool.'"

Lee works in the 1st Precinct, which includes Zuccotti Park, where the protesters have been since mid-September. He and his partners have been down there talking to them every day.

Protester Goldi Merhige says he's very familiar with the Hipster Cop.

"Hair that's slightly longer than your usual policeman, wears a tie, a white shirt and a casual windbreaker," Merhige said Thursday. "He's the cool guy."

Lee said that as a community affairs officer, his role is to try to work as a bridge between the protesters and the police, to balance the protesters' right to demonstrate and police attempts to maintain order.

"It's a juggling act because their right to demonstrate infringes on your right to peace and tranquility," he said. "We have to juggle all these things. It's not easy."

The leaderless nature of the protest makes it challenging for police, Lee said. The demonstrators have purposely stayed away from having people take on leadership roles, instead choosing to make decisions through consensus and widespread input.

That means "you've kind of got to sift through" the crowds to figure out who to talk to about various issues, Lee said.

Lee, who sometimes wears slim-fit jeans when he's off duty but not when he's working because the police department wouldn't approve, said the fashion choices that have made the Internet take notice also help him talk to people at the protest.

"In general, most people don't realize I'm a cop," he said. "I don't fit the mold."

Not fitting the stereotypical look of other plainclothes officers, who dress more casually, "breaks down a lot of walls," he said.