All entries for Friday 02 May 2008
May 02, 2008
Psychological influence of uniforms cited by authorities
Recent news that police in Massachusetts are to switch to black, military-style uniforms in an effort to appear more authoritative and aggressive highlights a more general move to militarize police in America and affect a "post 9/11" psychology of fear.
Last week an AP report headlined Massachusetts Police Get Black Uniforms to Instill Sense of 'Fear' detailed the move:
Sgt. John Delaney told a city council hearing Wednesday that the stark uniforms send a message to criminals that officers are serious about making arrests.
Delaney said a sense of "fear" has been missing for the past few years.
In recent years police in cities all over America have been increasingly seen in all black attire.
The introduction of black police uniforms has an ominous precedent. In 1932 Hitler's propaganda chief Heinrich Himmler famously introduced black uniforms for SS police, tailored to project authority and foster fear and respect. The choice of color was not by chance.
It is believed that the Nazis took the idea from the "blackshirts" in Italy years before the creation of the SS.
A 2001 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin has summarized research on police uniforms and noted the psychological influence they have:
Research has suggested that clothing has a powerful impact on how people perceive each other. The police officer's uniform has a profound psychological impact on others, and even slight alterations to the style of the uniform may change how citizens perceive them.
The studies cited found that black uniforms elicit emotions of anger, hostility, dominance, and aggression:
Applying the results of these studies in color to the police uniform suggests that darker police uniforms may send negative subconscious signals to citizens. A dark police uniform may subconsciously encourage citizens to perceive officers as aggressive, evil, or corrupt and send a negative message to the community.
Even more interesting are further findings that suggest both police officers and citizens are more likely to engage each other violently when the authorities come dressed in black:
The experiment with the colored jerseys also suggests that police officers in dark uniforms subconsciously may act more aggressively; therefore, departments should consider modifying police uniform colors.
The police uniform also may influence the safety level of the officer who wears it. Dark colored uniforms may elicit subconscious negative feelings from citizens, who may perceive the officer as aggressive, and subsequently, encourage them to consider violent action when confronted by the police.
Research has also shown that police uniforms with a lighter half have been ranked by citizens as "good, honest, helpful, and competent, the lighter colored sheriff's uniform rated noticeably higher for warmth and friendliness".
It is telling that police have ditched these in favor of the all black approach.
The same black uniform tactics have been adopted by police forces in the UK, who have ditched traditional uniforms in favor of black roll-necks and black combat trousers.
MPs have spoken out against the move, with David Jones, Conservative MP for Clwyd West describing the uniforms as "sinister".
"I think that the connotations of black shirts are obvious to anybody. They've got a kind of fascist, militaristic appearance." Jones commented at the time.
When the role of the police in a supposedly free country is to admittedly appear dangerous and to instill fear, in tandem with enhanced powers and more draconian practices, history tells us that something is most definitely not right.