One of the observations people make about the modern state of law enforcement is police are becoming more militarized. But when someone says
the police are “overmilitarized” what immediately comes to mind is police using
heavily armored vehicles and officers suited up in riot gear. But the reality of policing is more nuanced
and personal. In truth, the riot gear almost never comes out of the trunk of
the car and armored vehicles are used at events like Nashville’s Night Out about as much as in dangerous situations.
So what then are people talking about? Yes, these items contribute to the perception of a militarized police but it is my experience that the little things are what make a difference. The little things change public perceptions and they change the police mindset, both for the worse.
Metro Police uniforms are one of those little things. Until about fifteen years ago, the MNPD uniform was the standard uniform we saw Officers Reed and Malloy wearing on Adam-12: the dark blue shirt and pants with a white crew-neck shirt underneath. But that has changed, and the changes are one of those “little things”.
You will see officers still wearing the same dark blue shirt and pants but now, they have changed the color of the crew neck undershirt from white to black. You might say to yourself, “so what, white, black, who cares?” I would suggest this small change does two things:
1) It changes public perception, and
2) it represents a change in police attitude
The public may not recognize the change immediately but when we see men wearing all-black carrying guns, certain thoughts come to mind. Research by the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas supports this assertion:
The impression clothing makes is vitally important when determining what
perception an agency wants to portray, police administrators must be mindful
that the psychological benefits of utilizing the traditional police uniform far
outweigh a military styled uniform, and this should be the preferred choice
when determining what the best option is for a standard uniform. The importance
of this choice has been studied in the psychological and sociological fields
and should not be dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant.
Among police, the change represents a change in attitude of one’s role from that of
the “guardian” to that of the “warrior”. The “warrior” mentality has been well
documented in research such as a Harvard
study which found that mentality creates tension between the public and police and
results in antagonized relations between the police and the people they serve.
As that study concluded “[w]e can resolve that tension and improve policing, in
part, by replacing the concept of the police warrior with that of the guardian
Years ago, now retired East Sector Captain Danny Baker used to comment on the rise of this mentality when he saw his officers wearing black leather gloves even while sitting at roll-calls. He would mention in passing that the gloves were one of those “little things” that help form public opinion and represent the mentality of the officers as the warrior rather than the guardian. He never used those words but he was always trying to convey the concern. He understood the result of those little things that we now describe as an overmilitarization of police.
Where to go from here? I think the place to begin is with the “little things” as I call them. Police need to change how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves. We can talk about the big stuff to our legislators and change policies and procedures but we have to start with the small stuff and we can begin that today.
 Quill, Patrick, August 2016. The Police Uniform and Its Impact on Public Perception, The Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, https://shsu-ir.tdl.org/handle/20.500.11875/2163, [accessed 16 June 2020]
 Prescott, J., Starr, S., Stoughton, S., Prescott, J. and Starr, S., 2015. Law Enforcement's 'Warrior' Problem. [online] Harvardlawreview.org. Available at: <https://harvardlawreview.org/2015/04/law-enforcements-warrior-problem/> [Accessed 16 June 2020].