Whenever a person finds themselves in the streets of some strange town, confusion engulfs them. Amidst the feelings of confusion, the lost individual cannot trust anyone around them. In their attempts to find their way out, they gaze around trying to figure out the next course of action. The sight of a police uniform is usually a relief to such a person. There are many reasons why such an individual will without hesitation rush to the person in the police uniform. One of the principal reasons why the individual will seek the assistance of the uniformed person is the amount of trust that a common citizen vests in the police uniform (Baker et al, 2011, pp.77). Anyone would feel safe in the presence of a policeman. The police uniform is a symbol of the state. One will always feel at home in the company of the police than the most harmless civilian not because the policeman can do anything strange to help the lost individual but because of the psychological perception civilians hold about the police uniform. The policeman will always command much respect from the civilians even when he is not armed. Various researches and studies by psychologists have found the police uniform to be associated with power and authority. This paper seeks to explain the significance of the police uniforms, the psychological perceptions associated with the uniforms, as well as the uses of police uniforms.
The history of police uniforms dates back to 1829 in Britain (Singer & Singer, 1985, pp.157). During this time the metropolitan police of Britain, were assigned dark blue uniforms. They assumed the military structure but were differentiated from the ones worn by the military since the colors were different. When the uniforms were introduced in the city of New York in the year 1845, the color adopted was the same navy blue color. Later on most of the America's cities created police departments as the need for law and order rose. The police departments used the dark blue color and were associated with legal power. The rationale behind the dark color of the uniform has been an issue of debate in social, psychological and political circles. Many psychologists have advanced many explanations, but the major reason has been: the power associated with black colors. The police uniform of the police force is a symbol of power and authority.
The psychological effect of the police uniforms is highly notable. Experiments carried out by various social scientists and psychological experts have indicated that the average civilian associates the police uniform with professionalism (Stanko et al, 2012, pp.324). One landmark experiment was carried out by psychologist Dr. Leonard Bickham. In his experiment, he sent researchers to bus stops along highways. At the bus stops, the researchers dressed in civilian clothes gave an order requiring the passengers and pedestrians to move away from the waiting bay. The researchers experienced resistance and hesitation. Next, the researching psychologist sent men dressed in grey uniforms that were associated with the ordinary security guards. The people issued the same order. The reaction was the same. Hesitation and resistance were again observed. Next the Bickham sent two people dressed in clothes that resembled police uniforms. They issued the same order. This time round, no hesitation or resistance was experienced. The pedestrians obeyed without questions.
Sociologists have always argued that clothes reveal to a considerable degree the nature of a person. The clothes that one puts on reveal something about their social identity (Schott, 2011, pp.29). Social identity refers to the groups to which the person is affiliated. For instance, college students may not put on uniforms, but the way in which they dress can easily tell that they are college students. Similarly, in those schools where a certain standard code of dressing is emphasized, for instance the college of aviation, it is easy to tell that the individual you meet up on the street is indeed an aviation student. In this same way, the policeman is identified by his uniform as being part of the law enforcement arm of the government. This kind of social identity plays a major psychological role in gaining trust in the person in blue.
Psychologists have defined uniforms as a psychological shortcut (Rolo, 1996, pp.37). It does not take the ordinary citizen long to recognize a law enforcement officer. As such, the uniforms come in handy where the individual needs the services of a police agent but cannot easily trace a police station. The sight of the uniform communicates to the individual that help is within the vicinity. It may appear like a puzzle to many, why the highway police have to put on the uniforms if they are not armed in the first place. The uniform creates a mental illusion of governmental power in the drivers to the extent that they cannot defy the officer’s orders to pull up. The officer on the highways practices individual discretion by stopping the vehicle that, in his or her judgment, appears suspicious. The officer’s powers to practice discretion come with the uniform. Assuming that the officer was not dressed in the uniform, it is a matter of common sense that the motorist would not stop at all.
The uniform worn by the law enforcers is a way of observing consistency with the ranks. The uniforms are not identical in the police force. There are some modifications made to some of the uniforms to denote ranks of the officers (Macleod, 1996, pp.6). For instance, the uniform worn by a police constable is not the same as the uniform worn by a police inspector. The difference may be difficult to spot but denotes a very significance disparity in rank and command. The differences are usually found on such parts as the collar and shoulders of the uniforms. There may be some affixed marks on the collars or even the sleeve of the shirt that mark the difference between an officer holding one rank and another officer holding a different rank. This may be difficult to the untrained eye but is simple to the professional officers. They know the amount of respect to be accorded to the officer wearing a particular uniform.
The uniform denotes the quasi-military nature of the police force. The design of the uniform is made in such a manner that the combat capability of the police officers is apparent (Johnson, 2001 pp.27). The uniform, as mentioned earlier are dark in color. Additionally, they are made from very tough material. These qualities are very useful in adapting the police officers to the combat missions that come out of unforeseen disturbances. For instance when the police officers find themselves exchanging fire with bandits in the dark, the dark color camouflages them. This helps them maneuver the area and encircle the robbers without the armed gangsters spotting them. Furthermore, the uniforms are attached with a device to which they can affix a small gun such as a self-loading pistol. This clearly brings out the combatant nature of the officers. This again creates an impression in the mind of the civilian that the police officers are capable of protecting them.
Researches by various psychologists have indicated that changes in color and design of the police uniform would probably bring about changes in the perceptions that the civilians hold concerning the nature of the policemen (Buttle, 2006 pp.135). The researchers for instance noted the chance in the perception of the average American citizen about the policemen after their uniform was changed from a darker shade of blue to a lighter kind of blue. This change was after a serious confrontation between the police and the civilians during mass riots across the United States of America. During this confrontation, the police had brutally handled the civilians causing many injuries, mental and psychological torture. The civilians, in the aftermath of the confrontations developed serious negative attitudes towards the police. It is during this time that the police authorities decided to change uniforms color from the dark blue to a lighter blue. The citizens once again began to gradually accept the police as part of the society.
Interviews among the residents of New York indicated that the citizens viewed the new color of the police uniforms as being friendlier than the former dark uniforms. The dark uniforms were viewed as being combatant and were associated with brutality. The new light colored uniforms were associated with amicableness (Bridgewater, 1995 pp.72). As such, the civil population learnt to trust the new face of the police forces. Additionally, the police uniforms are associated with strength. The blue and black uniforms that the police force uses are associated with strength. Research has proven that indeed the civil populations view the police force a being strong and competent.
Studies carried out by Dr. Leonard Bickham among high school and college students on the impact of a uniform on the perceptions of an individual established that uniforms represented competence and professionalism (Bennett, 1999, pp.678). The students were shown pictures and photographs of athletes. In the photographs, some of the athletes were casually dressed while others were in identical uniforms. The students were then asked to establish the variations between the two groups. Certainly, the first difference noted by every student was the fact that the uniformed athletes belonged to a more competent category while the other casually dressed athletes constituted an amateur group. This knowledge was applied to the police force and found to be absolutely true and practicable.
According to interviews involving randomly selected members of the public, the uniforms of the police give the officers the right and mandate to apply reasonable force. A person resisting arrest or caught in the police drag net may be having the ability to but rarely resists the force used by the police. The uniform gives the police officers an air of immense skill and tactic. This helps the officers handle the potentially violent criminal. Resisting arrest by a uniformed officer amounts to abuse of state office. In legal terms, such abuse is referred to as contempt and is prosecutable and punishable at law. This aspect of the uniform gives the police the authority to pact with the law-breaking members of society that may be tempted to resist arrest.
The police department of any state is part of the disciplined forces. The police uniform is a sign of discipline. The manner in which the uniform is handled by the police personnel shows so much respect for the same. The police is usually very clean and extremely smart from their uniforms to their physical appearances. At the police academies, the police recruits are trained to perfectly clean their uniforms right from the headgear to the boot. This is the reason why they usually appear to be exceptionally clean. The public will always associate them with discipline and minimal corruption. The clean and neat uniforms are complemented by a clean shave. The police officers visit the barber’s almost on a daily basis. This creates an outlook that can be trusted by the citizens.
The police use different uniforms for different occasions. The reasons behind this practice have been a topic of research and debate since the year 1956. It was during this year that the police from the various departments of police across the United States of America started the practice of putting on different uniforms during different occasions (Rivera et al, 2011 pp.6). Such occasions include the national holidays and other events such as graduation ceremonies. During the weddings of colleagues and funerals of comrades, the police are seen in different uniforms. This, insiders explain, denotes respect for the important occasions and honor for the state on such days as public holidays. The police usually put on white or light colored uniforms during the public holidays. Psychologists explain that white, being a color associated with chastity and faithfulness, denotes the policemen’s allegiance and dedication to the state. Such uniforms on such occasions denote peace and friendliness among the police officers, as well as among the police and the civil public.
The uniformed officers also have the mandate and power to handle some situations and deal with non-routine issues with discretion. Discretion has been described as the capacity of an individual to go by a particular option which his or her instincts elect to go by (Baker et al, 2011, pp.84). The policemen, in their line of duty, may come across events of non-routine nature. Fundamentally, these are events that the policemen were not trained to handle. When they come across such circumstances, they are forced to use their personal views and opinions to make decisions aimed at solving the issues. Such decisions are based on their personal principles and moral values. For instance, it may be at the discretion of the officer to decide on which driver should pull up for inspection. This is because under normal circumstances, all cars appear similar and the contents, as well as the occupants are not known.
In relation to the administration, the uniforms of the police bear significance in the sense that they symbolize the spirit of unity and order (Shapiro, 2010, pp.9). The government has entrusted the police with the duty of enforcing the law. It therefore should expect the order to start from within the force. It is for no reason that the police perform a couple of drills at the public holiday ceremonies before the president and other dignitaries give their speeches. It symbolizes that everything is in order and that peace is maintained. The police uniform, from the administration’s point of view is a sign of security. It is no puzzle then why the personal assistants of the senior political leaders and administrators spot a very neat police uniform always designed to reflect high ranks.
The police uniform can as well be said to bear much significance to the administration because, beside it being government property, the uniform serves in differentiating the police personnel from the police of other departments or states (Baker et al, 2011, pp.79). For instance, it is through the uniform that a highway police officer can be differentiated from a crime scene detective. Similarly, it is by the uniform that the police officer from the Dallas police department can be differentiated from the officer from the Philadelphia department of internal security. Additionally, the uniform is of much importance to the administration when it comes to discipline among the officers. The uniforms are labeled with serial numbers with which a misbehaving officer can be identified.
The significance of the police uniform to the department can again be explained through studies that were carried out testing the importance of the police hats and caps, officially referred to as the berets. In the studies, the researchers took pictures of people clad in real police uniform. The only difference was the headgears. The researchers put on the officers’ heads, a cap with the official color of the police attire but shaped like the baseball cap, the other one was a helmet and the third one was the usual beret only worn by the regular police and military personnel on official functions. The people were required to establish the difference with regard to authority. The findings established that the man with a police beret on his head was seen as more authoritative than the rest. The police administration and departments therefore choose different caps for different units and different duties.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the police uniforms have a serious psychological impact on the mind of an average civilian. From the forgoing, the uniforms give the impression of strength. Strength is the physical power associated with the color of the uniforms as well as the material used to manufacture such uniforms. Similarly, the uniforms are associated with power and authority. The power is vested in the badge and the dark color of the clothes as well as the emblem on the beret of the official uniform. The uniform exhibits the team spirit that exists among the police. They work and operate as a team that is under one command. The unity of command makes the policemen appear identical in conduct and reasoning. The uniform of the police serves both legal and psychological purposes. It distinguishes the law enforcing agents from the ordinary citizen. The uniform deserves respect from people of all ages as long as they are protected by the law. It is common to find parents advising their children that in the event of any uncertainty, the first person they should trust is the man in the police uniform. As such kids grow up knowing that there is indeed tremendous power in the uniform of the policeman.
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