Images of power: An analysis of the militarization of police uniforms and messages of service

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John Paul
Michael L. Birzer


This paper examines the symbolic order of the American policing system. By symbolic order we refer to the various codes of communication between police and community members that reinforce "boundaries" in social relations. In the paper we argue that the militaristic symbolic vessels "worn" by the police reflect the institution's perceptions of worth and value regarding the public. Furthermore, we contend that these symbolic forms identify and perpetuate power inequalities and serve as mechanisms of social control. We conclude the paper with specific recommendations on how police may openly foster and communicate messages of service to community members.

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