Colin Pierce English 3 Ms. Pahomov
The Militarization of the Police and How it’s Making Us Less Safe In the past decade, incidents of violence between regular citizens and the police in America have become more frequent. With the increasing incidents of police violence, notably Michael Brown and the incident at a Phoenix pool party, it is obvious that there is a problem, and it shows no signs of improvement. This can be attributed in part to the militarization of our police forces, which is only getting worse with the influx of advanced gear left over from the Iraq war. These weapons and defensive items being introduced mask the human features of officers, and makes them seem more like objects than actual people. This dehumanizing effect makes them look more threatening, and creates a greater contrast between the police and the average person. It is believed by some scientists that, when people are exposed to weapons, they are more likely to exhibit violent behavior, as Bruce Bartholow, a psychologist from the University of Missouri, told NYMag. He said “Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur … I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” Dr. Bartholow stated that people are more likely to act violently when they are around weapons. On a regular police officer’s uniform, their weapon is small and can fit on their side, which isn’t very noticeable. However, when an officer is carrying a larger rifle, they have no choice but to hold it in front of them, which is very visible and threatening. This goes both ways, as an officer would feel more open to violence the more they handle their weapon. As a result, both police and civilians would feel more inclined to start violent incidents, and as a result, the crime rate would increase. Fortunately, the opposite effect can also be arranged. It has been proven during field tests that, when police officers wear more casual clothing instead of their regular uniforms, their relationship with the community improves. Richard Johnson, who is a medical student, puts it best in his article on policeone.com, where he writes “In 1969, the police in Menlo Park, California dispensed with their traditional navy blue, paramilitary-style uniforms and adopted a nontraditional uniform in hopes of improving police community relations. The new, nontraditional uniform consisted of a forest green sport coat blazer worn over black slacks, a white shirt, and a black tie. The officer's badge was displayed on the blazer and the officer's weapons were concealed under the coat. ... After wearing the new uniforms for 18 months the Menlo Park police officers displayed fewer authoritarian characteristics on psychological tests when compared to officers in the surrounding jurisdictions.” Johnson examines a real life example of officers wearing more casual uniforms, and shows that it caused them to display fewer authoritarian characteristics, which improved their connection to their community, and ultimately reduced crime. Even police officials agree that too much gear can separate a police officer from the rest of society, as Chief Norm Stamper told NBC in an interview in 1999. He said “[W]hen riot shields are raised, the seemingly simple fact that civilians can't see the cops' faces flips a psychological switch for some citizens in the crowd — and that image acts to dehumanize the officers.” When officers have riot shields it will, depending on the type of shield, completely blocks the officers’ faces. This outright removes the human aspect, and makes rioters feel like they are attacking objects instead of people. In conclusion, the appearance of an officer has a large effect on people's view of them, and also the officer’s view of everyone else. A more militarized uniform causes the officer to think of people as opponents and potential troublemakers rather than the people they’re supposed to protect. These differences create a dehumanizing effect for people which only creates more violence. A common argument by police is that they need more armored uniforms because of the increased violence against them, but in reality the reason that there is so much violence against them is because people are scared by their uniforms. Police officers are supposed to make people feel safer, but with a ‘heavy-duty’ uniform it does the exact opposite. WORKS CITED: "How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence." Science of Us. NYmag, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/08/how-militarizing-police-can-increase-violence.html>. Johnson, Richard. "The Psychological Influence of the Police Uniform." The Psychological Influence of the Police Uniform. Police One, 4 Mar. 2005. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://www.policeone.com/police-products/apparel/undergear/articles/99417-The-psychological-influence-of-the-police-uniform/>. Briggs, Bill. "Are Ferguson Cops Fueling Mob Psychology By Donning Battle Gear? - NBC News." Are Ferguson Cops Fueling Mob Psychology By Donning Battle Gear? NBC News, 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.