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Good guys wear black: uniform color and citizen impressions of police

Ernest Nickels (SUNY Oswego, Department of Police Justice, State University of New York, Oswego, New York, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




The purpose of this article is to examine whether officer uniform color influences impressions the public forms about the character of police officers.


A survey using digitally manipulated photographic prompts was used to examine how various levels of officer race, posture, and uniform color as well as a number of other experiential, attitudinal and demographic variables influenced subjects' impressions of officers' character on factor scores constructed from a set of semantic differential scales.


Officer uniform color influences impression formation, but not in the expected manner. Black uniforms elicited more positive impressions of officers than did lighter uniforms.

Research limitations/implications

Convenience sample was drawn from university undergraduates.

Practical implications

Darker uniforms for police may enhance favorable character impressions formed by some sectors of the public.


The research instrument improves measurement validity over prior methods while maintaining a precise experimental control. Findings contradict the conclusions of prior research on public perceptions of darker vs lighter police uniforms.



Nickels, E. (2008), "Good guys wear black: uniform color and citizen impressions of police", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 77-92.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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