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Reflections of a working writer and reader




I first posted this on the 3rd September 2003:

‘Perhaps the most striking illustration of the influence of uniforms to affect or alter role perspective is reported in the “Uniform Experiment” (Tenzel and Cizanckas, 1973). In 1969, the Chief of Police of the California community of Menlo Park, in the interest of professionalising the role of police and improving community relations, embarked on a program whose most apparent feature was a change in the style of police attire. The police of Menlo Park shifted from the typical blue, military style uniform to a civilian green blazer. The results were dramatic, both on the attitudes of the police and the community.
Tenzel and Cizanckas found that stripped of the established symbols of authority, police began to develop new patterns of relating to the community and gradually adopted the role of police as “public service officer”. In later years, this shift away from the militaristic model of authority led to the elimination of rank altogether and its replacement by a more horizontal organizational structure.
In follow up studies (Tenzel, Storms, Sweetwood, 1976) it was found that assaults on Menlo Park police officers decreased by 30%, citizen injuries resulting from arrest decreased by 50%, morale rose, and the staff turnover rate dropped from 25.5% in the year prior to the shift in uniforms to 2% three full years into the program. Finally, community approval of the blazer experiment rose from 69% following their introduction to 80% by 1975 (Cizanckas and Feist, 1975).’

LITERATURE REVIEW: THE EFFECTS OF UNIFORMS IN CORRECTIONS. No. B-02. Prepared by: Research Branch, Communications and Corporate Development, Canadian Correctional Service. FEBRUARY 1989.

It would be interesting to hear how this experiment concluded and what the land looks like in Menlo Park now. Anyone know?

3 Responses to “Uniforms”

  1. bloglily says:

    What an interesting experiment. One thing I know is that the green blazer movement has not spread northward in the Bay Area. In fact, a few days ago I drove by a massive funeral for a San Francisco police officer who was killed while on duty. It was less a display of grief than a display of military might, with strict lines of police in blue uniforms standing at attention outside the cathedral where the funeral took place, police cars everywhere, and motorcycle cops in those shiny black SS boots waving traffic in inconvenient directions. I don’t think they grieve their dead the same way in Menlo Park, twenty some miles south of San Francisco, right next to Palo Alto. Nor do I know if they still wear their green blazers, but it wouldn’t be all that hard to do community policing in Menlo Park, because all its citizens are either busy studying at Stanford, funding start-ups, or starting them up themselves, and so never actually emerge onto the streets to commit the kind of crimes that require policing. The only difficulty with creating a community police force in Menlo Park comes not from its upright citizens, but from the fact that a police officer could never afford to live there. (Compare all that to Berkeley where I live, a place where the police are still bristling from decades of being the enemy, and a lingering suspicion that, in fact, they still are.)

    Happy New Year John!

    jb says: Thanks for that, BL. The whole question of uniforms and what they do to the wearers and the people who come into contact with them has fascinated me since my school days. Back then we wore an antiquated military uniform which actually looked quite silly, but I always remember the way that putting it on and taking it off made small but significant changes to our personalities.

  2. Corporate Clothing says:

    It is amazing the difference a simple colour change of a uniform can make. Good post. Thanks for the info

  3. Waylon says:

    I found several references to the results of the 8 year “Blazer” trial in Menlo Park, none of which I personally cooborated. But the overall message is similar to this info I found on policeone:

    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. Also for that first one-and-one-half years with the new uniforms, assaults on the Menlo Park police decreased by 30% and injuries to civilians by the police dropped 50%. These changes were originally thought to have been a result of the uniform changes but there were other factors at work at die same time. The number of college educated officers in the department increased dramatically and the traditional autocratic management style of the department was abolished during this same time period.

    In 1977, after wearing the blazer style uniform for 8 years, the Menlo Park Police Department realized that the sport coat uniform did not command respect and returned to a traditional, paramilitary-style uniform. A final evaluation showed that although assaults on officers had dropped during the first 18 month of wearing the new uniforms, the number of assaults steadily began to rise again until the rate was double that of the year before the uniform change occurred. During the four years after the Menlo Park police returned to a traditional style uniform the number of assaults against their officers dropped steadily. The experiments with the hats and the style of the police uniform suggest that changes in the style of a police uniform can have an effect on the perceived authority, power, and ability to control.