There was an interesting story out of Montreal this week about police in that city wearing camouflage in an effort to intimidate:
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he’s asked Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to pass a law requiring police officers to wear their full uniform because he’s shocked the city’s officers wore fatigues as part of continuing pressure tactics during the state funeral of former premier Jacques Parizeau on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, we had our police officers who decided to dress all wrong and behave all wrong, and they demonstrated they have no class,” Coderre said in a four-minute castigation of the police union and officers at the public portion of the weekly city executive committee meeting on Wednesday. . . .
Montreal police officers hung up their camouflage pants and wore full uniform for the funeral of Canadiens hockey legend Jean Béliveau in December. The Police Brotherhood called the temporary halt to wardrobe pressure tactics a sign of respect for the beloved hockey player and his family and fans.
The fascinating thing about this story is the general acknowledgment on all sides that civilian police wearing camouflage is inappropriate.
That certainly isn’t the case here in the United States, where cops decked out in camouflage and military fatigues is a pretty common sight. Much of the discussion of police militarization has focused on the big guns and the armored vehicles. But the adoption of military dress and clothing should be just as concerning. The problem with police militarization is that a soldier’s mind-set, tactics and weapons are designed for war and therefore are inappropriate for domestic law enforcement. Soldiers kill foreign enemies. Cops are supposed to serve and protect. Except in a few very rare circumstances, such as a manhunt in a wooded area, there’s just no reason for cops to wear camouflage. And the imagery problem cuts both ways. Dressing like a soldier can make a cop more likely to act like one, but it can also make the community he serves see him as one. It’s just a bad idea.
Of course, there are other things to consider when a police department is choosing what its officers will wear, things such as cost, maneuverability, comfort and so on. But image ought to be part of that conversation, too.
Here, for example, is a U.S. police department that gets it:
The Logan County Sheriff’s Office announced on Saturday (June 6) that it would be changing uniforms for deputies to save money and present a “less militant” appearance.
Over the next few weeks, the office is transitioning from their current uniform to one that consists of an oxford shirt (white for day shift and black for night shift) and Levis/Wranglers jeans (or khakis).
There have been a few similar experiments over the years at U.S. police agencies. Most of them didn’t last long. I don’t think there’s much of a problem with the traditional police blues (or the brown worn by sheriff’s deputies). But with many departments moving to all-black, to battle dress uniforms and to a generally more militaristic look, perhaps the time is right to start talking more about law enforcement uniforms — about how they affect both the psychology of officers, and the image they project to the surrounding community.