The Bugler

Bugler Newsletter

Police Uniforms

Strength and authority or evil and aggression? Experiments with police hats and uniform styles suggest that design and color changes can affect public perception of authority, power and ability to control. It started 250 years ago.

Prior to public police forces, communities often used civilian watchmen. As many of our legal and government agencies were imported from England so, too, was our system of watchmen. The first in the American colonies was the Rattle Watch, a group of colonists during the Dutch era in the 1600s who patrolled from sunset till dawn. They carried muskets and blunderbusses, lanterns and wooden rattles similar to the ratchet noisemakersused during New Year celebrations. The rattles made loud, distinctive sounds and were used to sound an alarm and warn farmers and colonists of threatening situations. Upon hearing the sound, the colonists would rally to defend themselves or form bucket brigades to put out fires. New York City Police were also the first to wear protective body armor, but you may be surprised to learn that it was a real suit of battle armor! The only thing uniform about their dress was the large wooden rattles. In 1693, the New York City Bellmen (police officers) were to be attired in "a coat of ye citty livery, with badge of ye citty arms, shoes and stocking." But, if the government had no uniform regulations, the Bellmen could show up for duty in anything they chose to wear.

In 1829, London established the first modern police force and was the first law enforcement entity to include uniform dress codes. They chose dark blue for the police, because the British military wore red and white. Following their lead, including the color choice, U.S. police departments began to institute dress codes. New York was the first in 1853. Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit quickly followed by establishing police departments based on the London model. They, too, adopted the dark blue paramilitary uniform. The police at that time wore a leather helmet and blue single-breasted frock coats with velvet collars with the letters "M.P." (Municipal Police) attached to them. Rows of black buttons decorating the front were later changed to the classic brass buttons. Gray pants with black side stripes completed the uniform. A baton measuring 22" and only

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