Honey, Does This Uniform Make Me Look Mean?

The color schemes of police uniforms may affect community relations and officer safety.

What are the implications for the cop on the street? If the dark uniform subconsciously creates negative images in citizens, police are starting out from a position of disadvantage in any street encounter. It will be more difficult to gain citizen trust and cooperation. The community has subconsciously formulated a negative opinion of the officer prior to any interaction. If the officer is dealing with an emotionally disturbed person or a highly agitated subject, the color of his uniform may exacerbate aggressive feelings.

The officer on the street has enough obstacles to overcome. Constantly entering unknown situations with unknown persons is trying enough. Police administrators should consider the implications of the color scheme of the uniform. First, ask why does the department use this color scheme? Is it based on sound law enforcement experience and research, or is it just a tradition no one wants to break? Second, is the uniform helping or hurting the officer in doing his job? If the job is to create a positive public image and promote community support, the color scheme of the uniform may be impeding the officer from successfully doing his job.

Editor's notes:
  1. We know that the NYPD wears blue, not black uniforms, but the author of the study referenced by Detective Petrocelli indicated that the uniforms were black, so we kept the reference in context.
  2. Dr. Johnson's study was published in the
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, which maintains its archives online. However, the issue containing Dr. Johnson's article is not expected to be available online until January 2007. In the meantime, some academic libraries may have it in their periodical collections.
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