The Constable's New Clothes: Effects of Uniforms on Perceptions and Problems of Police Officers1


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    This paper was prepared while the author held a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The patient assistance of Officers Ronald Levine, Peter Martin, and Charles Russell, the models who bore the objects of this study, is sincerely appreciated. The assistance rendered by Judith Pippin, Menlo Park Police Department, and Officer Jeffrey Sato and several volunteers associated with the Los Altos Police Department, is also gratefully acknowledged. The advice of Phoebe Ellsworth and Deanna Gomby, who commented on earlier drafts of this paper, is sincerely appreciated.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Robert Mauro, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford, CA 94305.


Popular beliefs concerning the effect of clothing styles on behavior have had important policy ramifications. For instance, in the interest of developing better police-community relations, numerous police departments have considered changing from a traditional police uniform to a more “civilian” style of dress. Effects of such an alteration were examined in the laboratory and in the field. No positive effects of the uniform change were found. Compared to officers wearing a blazer-style uniform, officers wearing traditional uniforms were perceived as more honest, more active, more helpful, more competent, more “good”, more valuable, faster, and as possessing better judgment. Data on arrests for resisting arrest and assaults on a police officer were obtained from a police department which adopted, then 8 years later abandoned, a civilian style blazer uniform. No effect of the uniform change on the number of assaults on police officers and arrests for resisting arrest was found, contrary to previous reports.