Interesting Ways Civilian Minds Respond To Police Uniforms
In the United States in 2017, there were approximately 662,390 police and sheriff's patrol officers. Perhaps you don't think your mind has any reaction to what they're wearing, but research shows that influences are there, but subtle.
There's a distinctly different reaction between seeing a stranger wearing business casual and an officer decked out with police handcuffs, combat boots, and some manner of tactical police uniform. While most people aren't weighing the advantages and disadvantages of an officer's choice of tactical boots (there are many), police uniforms have distinct psychological power.
Let's look at some ways this happens.
Similarly comparable to other uniformed professional branches, uniforms are generally reflective of order. When keeping the peace and enforcing the law, the symbolism of order plays an important role in how people respond to law enforcement officers. Among the chaos, officers are charged with the responsibility of bringing peace, law, and order. Their uniforms bring a physical representation of that order that observers cannot ignore.
The Observer Effect
The Observer Effect is an Anthropological concept that boils down to people changing their behavior when they know they're being watched. In police terms, it's when you have no problem driving above the speed limit, then when you see a police vehicle your behavior immediately changes. This happens with uniformed officers in public. People will change their behavior around officers even if they're doing nothing remotely illegal. The uniform holds a power that reflects order and mentally nudges people to straighten up. Why? They think they're being watched, even if they're not.
Sure, people might be strangely anxious around uniformed officers, but there's also a distinct feeling of safety. Officers in uniform subconsciously put people at ease, especially in situations that are out of the ordinary. Car accidents are a great example of this. Jarring incidents like these can cause otherwise rational people to become overwhelmed by unfamiliar stimuli. Once officers arrive at a scene, the mere idea of their presence brings an automatic sense of order in an otherwise disorderly moment.
While police officers might be lamenting their poor choice of tactical boots based on the weather, people are observing a person dressed as the embodiment of law and order. The next time you see an officer in uniform, think about how you respond and realize that you likely wouldn't have even noticed that stranger had they not been wearing their uniform. That's the power of dress.
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