Authors: John O’Neill, Steven A. Swenson, Emily Stark, Dawn A. O’Neill, William J. Lewinski
The primary purpose of this study was to begin an examination of the relationship between public perception and the number of attachments on external protective vests worn by law enforcement. A secondary purpose was to examine perceptual differences between non-law enforcement majors and law enforcement majors. Images of six vests that systematically varied in the amount of external attachments were rated across eight attributes: (1) approachability, (2) militarized appearance, (3) intimidation, (4) professional appearance, (5) organization, (6) confidence instilled in an officer, (7) confidence instilled in the public, and (8) recognizable as law enforcement. Vests with more external attachments were rated as more militarized and intimidating. However, participants also rated militarized appearance and intimidation as the least important attributes when considering external protective vests. Confidence instilled (by the images of vests) in an officer, and in the public, were the highest rated attributes, respectfully. These findings suggest that a militarized and intimidating appearance might not detract from the public’s overall acceptance of external protective vests in law enforcement. In addition, law enforcement majors and non-law enforcement majors differed significantly in their ratings of all eight attributes. This suggests that exposure to law enforcement education might affect public perceptions of external protective vests. It is possible that education of the public on the function (e.g., load distribution) of external protective vest attachments might offset negative perceptions.