Does a Uniform Keep Officers in Line? The Baltimore Chief Thinks So

“I want you to look like a cop, because I can’t ask you to act like a cop unless you look like one.”

That was the reaction of Baltimore’s top cop as he disbanded several plainclothes units in the department after learning that seven members of a gun task force had been indicted by the FBI. Police departments across the country are facing similar charges, and are grappling with ways to respond to claims of abuse by their plainclothes officers.

Plainclothes divisions aren’t new. Detectives wear suits, and undercover officers often wear street clothes. But beginning in the 1980s, in response to the crack epidemic, cities also began creating specific units to roam high-crime neighborhoods with a mandate of ridding the streets of drugs and guns.

Many argue that plainclothes officers are better at catching criminals, but others say that the shedding of uniforms has resulted in an erosion of public trust and a diminished level of professionalism by officers.

There is no doubt that a police uniform is a powerful symbol of authority. Dress influences how we feel about ourselves and how we are perceived, but does clothing also affect how we act? Read the article, then decide for yourself:

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