Why are Law Enforcement Uniforms so….Uniform?

August 22, 2016

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

The need for law enforcement officers to be highly recognizable obvious. Citizens must be able to instantly identify law enforcement to know where they can go for assistance and to know that the officer they are speaking with has legal authority to give orders, stop them, and even physically detain them. Also, whether an officer is wearing any uniform can be a determining factor in whether that officer is violating your constitutional rights. However, an officer’s uniform is not only recognizable because of the badge.

Each law enforcement agency has developed a traditional uniform color throughout history. Sheriffs’ departments tend to wear uniforms in tones of brown, tan, or khaki. Police departments tend to wear dark colors like black or blue. Exactly where these traditions started is up for debate. Some believe that police departments wear blue because of surplus uniforms available after the end of the civil war. Others believe sheriffs’ departments wear browns because the uniforms will not show dust or dirt from the more rural areas they tend to be charged with protecting. There are also arguments that none of the uniforms are white because it would make the officers too visible at night—putting the officers in danger.

Despite traditions, sometimes the color green (money) is the biggest determining factor in how law enforcement agencies color themselves. Costs associated with maintaining a vehicle fleet has encouraged some departments to vary from their traditional color scheme. Prior to 2007, the Bartholomew County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department’s patrol vehicles were treated to a custom two-toned paint job before being put onto the streets. Later, the paint job was simplified to a one-tone color scheme. More recently, in 2012, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department began to save approximately $500 per car by ending the custom paint jobs and taking the cars in a standard white. Also, the constant need for specially colored uniforms has encouraged private companies to provide uniform pieces and accessories for officers.

No matter what color their uniforms are, law enforcement officers are clothed in a great deal of authority. However, knowing what agency you are speaking with can be important. Remember, if the uniform is blue, you are likely speaking to a local police officer (unless it has a pin-stripe, that would be our Indiana State Police). If the uniform is brown, you are likely speaking to a county sheriff’s deputy. And if the uniform is brown and the person is wearing shorts, you are likely speaking to a UPS carrier.

Looking for an attorney who can look past the color of your shirt? Contact us today if you have questions or believe your constitutional or criminal rights have been violated. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.