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Good Guys Wear Black: Uniform Color and Citizen Impressions of Police

NCJ Number
Policing Volume: 31 Issue: 1 Dated: 2008 Pages: 77-92
Ernest Nickels
Date Published
16 pages
This study examined whether the color of uniforms worn by police officers influenced public perceptions of the character of officers.
This study found that darker uniform colors received more positive evaluations of officers than did lighter colored uniforms. This suggests that the general thesis about people's tendency to find badness in darkness requires some qualification in varying social contexts. In certain social contexts, such as religious rituals and enforcement of laws, dark colors may foster submission to a superior power capable of effective protection and control, without any connotation of evil. A convenience sample (n=150) of undergraduate students at a large Midwestern State university participated in the study. They were shown photographs of officers dressed in uniforms who varied in their race, posture, and uniform color. Four levels of uniform color were portrayed, distinguished primarily by level of darkness. Each subject was randomly assigned to 1 of the 16 photographs depicting a unique combination of race, posture, and uniform color. Photos were embedded as an image in the same questionnaire used for all subjects. Officers were rated with a seven-point scale on the following couplets: good/bad, nice/mean, warm/cold, gentle/forceful, friendly/unfriendly, passive/aggressive, and honest/corrupt. An eighth scale, attractive/unattractive, was added for use as an independent variable to control for the effect of beauty upon character assessments. 3 tables, 7 notes, and 50 references