On my commute to class this morning, I had the unfortunate task of navigating around several accidents on the post-Frankenstorm highways in Massachusetts. As I eased past one of these smash-ups, the state trooper standing watch over the epilogue looked over my vehicle with the scrutiny of one used to finding something wrong and acting on it.
I have a lot of friends who are in law enforcement. I’ve been on multiple ride-alongs with them in my life, in different states, both rural and urban areas, for personal interest and even for class projects. I’ve seen some of the action that makes you think of an episode of Cops first-hand (my only experience to-date of being in a vehicle traveling over 100 mph was on one of these ride-alongs). This small handful of experiences has left me with a profound appreciation for what these men and women deal with on a daily basis. They really are heroes, heading into situations that you or I run away from. They spend most of their day dealing with people that you or I really would not want to be around. They’re hypervigilant constantly because the most common of their job responsibilities can escalate into a violently dangerous situation at any time.
All that to say, I respect what these people do every day.
Because of this odd fascination of mine with law enforcement (I suspect because they are everyday heroes in our urban mythology), I notice the police officers when I visit a new area, and especially when I move into a new area. I notice the colors of their vehicles and uniforms. The uniforms, specifically, convey a powerful visual rhetoric.
And, the Massachusetts State Police uniforms seem…well, overly authoritarian. What I’ve seen of them (primarily along the roadsides) has been triangular hats (many if not most state police organizations use circular brimmed hats), bandoliers, and pants tucked down inside of tall boots. I’ve read some less-than flattering historical comparisons of these uniforms in various corners of the Internet, and I’m not going there, but I do see these uniforms as being overly intimidating in nature. The most effective police professionals I know or have encountered approach situations from the launching point of being helpful and working to resolve a situation. In fact, I think that most of them approach situations this way. I’m not sure that any police officer begins the work day wanting to take someone to jail.
So, the issue that I have with these uniforms is that they go beyond conveying a demeanor of authority. They convey a demeanor of intimidation and fear. That’s not effective. What concerns me is that I see the non-verbal cues of these troopers match the demeanor that their uniforms display.
I suppose that I’m of the opinion that sworn peace officers are there to serve and protect. I recognize that this involves doing things that will make them unpopular with most of us at some point or another (typically this involves being on the wrong end of a radar gun in a moment of carelessness..I have most certainly been there). To carry an appearance of being distant, untouchable, and in the role of watchful enforcer, however, seems to be counter-intuitive to the roles of serving and protecting.
I suppose that the costume of a hero says something powerful.
And, now I have an entirely new post coming to mind about that whole hero thing, again…