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Police Uniform Color and Citizen Impression Formation

NCJ Number
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Volume: 20 Issue: 2 Dated: Fall 2005 Pages: 58-66
Richard R. Johnson
Date Published
9 pages
This study evaluated 4 common color schemes for police uniforms in terms of how a sample of 737 citizens in a midwestern city reacted emotionally to the colors.
An experimental design was used to measure the impact of the independent variable (uniform color) on seven impression-related dependent variables. The research site was a large shopping mall within the city. A researcher approached shoppers and requested their participation in evaluating a new uniform being considered by a local police department. Each test subject was randomly shown an 8x10 color photo of one of four uniforms for evaluation. Each of the four uniforms was identical in tailoring, and the photo portrayed the shirt and pants laid out neatly on a plain white background. The uniforms consisted of a light-blue shirt and navy-blue pants, a white shirt and black pants, a black shirt and black pants, and a khaki shirt and khaki pants, each of these colors is worn by metropolitan police departments in the United States. While viewing one of the four photos, each test subject was asked to record his/her impression of the uniform on a questionnaire with Likert scales that measured impression formation on the continuums of good/bad, nice/mean, warm/cold, gentle/forceful, friendly/unfriendly, passive/aggressive, and honest/corrupt. Consistent with previous similar studies, the all-black color scheme was viewed most negatively on six of the seven scales. The light-blue shirt and navy-blue pants created the most positive impression on all seven scales. Police executives should note these findings and appreciate the psychological advantages and disadvantages related to uniform color in citizens' initial emotional reactions in contacts with police officers. 3 tables and 36 references