A police uniform conveys the power and authority of the person wearing it. Clothing, including police uniforms, was found to have a powerful psychological impact on those viewing it. When humans come into contact with other people, they subconsciously look for clues about the other person so that they can understand each other's background. Police uniforms are powerful clues about the authority, competence and status of the wearer.
Research has shown that uniforms can have subconscious psychological effects on people based on their preconceived feelings about the police. When a person puts on a police uniform, citizens tend to be more cooperative with his or her request. When police uniforms are visible in the area, people also tend to curb their illegal or deviant behavior.
Changes to traditional paramilitary police uniforms could lead to changes in public perception, research suggests. The style of clothing, the type of hats worn, the color of materials, and even the condition of clothing and gear can all influence how citizens perceive officers. For these reasons, police administrators need to take their uniform policies seriously. The choice of uniform style, the rules for proper uniform wearing, the maintenance of uniforms, and the policy on when officers can wear civilian clothes should all be taken very seriously. A police uniform should be considered an important tool for every patrol officer.
Research supports these recommendations about uniformed power and authority. In one study, people were asked to rank 25 different occupational uniforms according to several categories of feeling. Test subjects consistently ranked police uniforms as the most likely to induce a sense of security. In another experiment, models in police uniforms were consistently rated as more competent, reliable, intelligent, and helpful than models in civilian clothes. Drivers also commit far fewer turn violations at intersections if someone in a police-style uniform is standing on the sidewalk near a corner. This happens even if the uniform is not that of a real police department in the area and has no badges or weapons.
Psychologist Dr. Leonard Beekman conducted an interesting experiment to test the strength of police uniforms. A research assistant randomly approached pedestrians on a city street and ordered them to either pick up a paper bag, give another person a dime, or back off from a bus stop. Research assistants alternated between casual casual clothes, milkman uniforms, or gray police-style uniforms with badges but no weapons. Only police uniforms can get a high degree of cooperation from the public. Obedience to police-style uniforms generally continued even after the research assistant quickly walked away and did not look to ensure compliance.