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Do you ever wonder why most police uniforms are blue? How about what inspired them? Police uniforms are designed to convey certain psychological effects and they have greatly impacted society. Here’s a brief look into police uniform history and what it means for us.
Police Uniform Origin
Prior to the 1800s, policing largely consisted of volunteers who patrolled streets to keep neighborhoods safe. It wasn’t until 1829 when Robert Peel established the London Metropolitan Police that we were introduced to modern law enforcement. Peel selected blue as the police uniform color to contrast from the red worn by the British military. Psychologically speaking, blue is often associated with feelings of calmness, loyalty, and security. The genius of Peel’s military-influenced attire is that it granted police the appearance of authority, while the blue inspired comfort in civilians.
New York 1800s
The first American police department was established in New York in 1845. Taking a page from London, they adopted the same dark blue uniforms and incorporated them in 1853. At first, officers did not take kindly to the uniforms, calling them “expensive” and “fantastical”. They were concerned over being perceived as servants of the community, rather than authority figures. Civilians, however, were in favor of the uniforms because they found police easier to spot during times of need.
Menlo Park 1960s
In 1968, Victor Cizanckas was hired as the police chief for Menlo Park, CA. During that time, reports of police violence were extremely high due to the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests. Wanting to relieve some of the tension, Cizanckas implemented a new dress code policy to make officers appear more approachable.
They switched from traditional uniforms to blazers, hiding guns under jackets. Officers also grew out their hair and beards. Cizanckas even renamed job titles, calling sergeants managers. According to the New York Times, he wanted to treat “command staff as managers, not as members of a military hierarchy.”
As a result, officers appeared less intimidating to the public. It’s reported that police violence dropped by 50%, while violence against police officers dropped 30%. Unfortunately, this decline in violence only lasted for the first year and a half. By 1977, Cizanckas moved on from the position and the Menlo Park Police Department switched back to regular uniforms.
Modern Police Uniforms
Police uniform styles change in response to what’s happening in society. When riots increased during the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Crime”. His Law Enforcement Assistance Act granted police the ability to carry heavier duty weapons. This also gave birth to S.W.A.T. teams and armored police.
Nowadays, police uniforms are used for more tactical purposes. For instance, bullet proof vests are necessary for protection, while dark colors provide cover at night. As a result, uniforms now come in any dark color ranging from black to brown. These colors have been known to represent power and authority, but the downside is they can also provoke feelings of negativity. The color black, after all, is most often attributed to antagonism.
Many factors play into how police officers are perceived by the public. But as far as uniforms go, they do a perfect job of distinguishing officers as authority figures across all societies. No matter where you go, police officers are instantly recognized as symbols of protection and assistance to those who seek it.
How do you believe police uniform history affects us today? Let us know in the comments down below.