Riverside Sheriffs’ Department Deputy Kevin Brooks is known in town as “the officer with the hat.”
Often this means his formal campaign hat or “Smokey” as he calls it, which is a Stetson he wore as a drill instructor for the US Marine Corps.
But these days it can also mean his new white cowboy hat.
For Brooks, who grew up on a steady diet of westerns and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” there is no greater beacon for a Sheriff than the white cowboy hat.
As everyone knows, in westerns — between the gun-slinging, the showdowns at sunset and the horse riding law men – the good guys always wear the white cowboy hats.
“The hat demands a presence,” Brooks said. “And we to need command that presence, especially in the kind of situations that we police officers roll into. People always think I’m in charge — I think it’s the hat.”
In February, newly-elected Sheriff Chad Bianco updated the Riverside Sheriff’s Department uniform with the addition of a white cowboy hat. They aren’t a mandatory part of the uniform, but the number of cowboy hat sightings has increased in Riverside County.
“People give me compliments all the time or make jokes and ask if my horse is outside,” said Brooks, who works in Moreno Valley. “I don’t know if we could pull off wearing a hat in a city.”
Brooks, 59, has been wearing a uniform since he was an 8-year-old Cub Scout growing up in Washington D.C. Many of the parents in the Scouts were military and he learned early on the importance of a uniform and how this translates to authority.
“I remember reading an article about how people felt when they saw a police officer in a hat and it stuck with me,” Brooks said. “There’s something about it. You look more professional, disciplined and structured. I have always locked into that … as soon as I was allowed to wear a hat full time, I did.”
His trajectory from Cub Scout to Military Cadet Programs to Marine and then to Deputy was seamless.
Brooks joined the Marines shortly after high school and retired after a 20-year career. He knew his next job would be law enforcement where he could work in a field where he felt he had purpose and where he could continue to contribute to the community, but also to join the family business.
“Both of my brothers are cops,” Brooks said. “The youngest retired from the New York City Police Department and my middle brother is the first African American Police Chief in Roselle, New Jersey. At 59, I’m the rookie between my brothers.”
Brooks graduated from the Police Academy and then for six years commuted to San Diego County from his home in Hemet, an 83-mile (one-way) drive to the San Diego Police Department, which eventually took a toll on his quality of life.
He was referred to an opening at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and was happy to join the department with its rolling hills and equestrian backdrop. He found his passion in the K9 Unit, and discovered a love of working with police dogs and training them.
For the last 14 years, Brooks has settled into a life in the County where he can be an involved father (6 kids) and grandfather (9 grandchildren), work with K9s, and wear a cowboy hat while enforcing the law – just like his heroes in the westerns he watched as a kid.
“People love it,” Brooks said. “It’s the Sheriff style. What’s more iconic than the white cowboy hat?”