There was a post on my LinkedIn social media recently asking if it was better to wear a tie in a portrait and how formal a portrait should be? Accompanied by two images, of men not wearing and wearing a tie respectively, comments were evenly split (my own answer was it depends on the industry and a subject’s personality). The main issue, of course, was one of appearance; how do you want to appear and the importance of your clothes in this equation. This importance of appearance has been in the back of my mind in regards to recent events in Portland, Oregon. The Department of Homeland Security has seen fit to send federal police to stop what it perceives to be lawlessness, without invitation from the state leadership. However far from quelling violence, the actions of these federal agents, dressed in military fatigues, have led to increased nightly protests and repeated requests by the state governor and the city mayor to leave.
As someone who served in the British military and now shoots with a camera, this importance of appearance is equally valid when it comes to the armed and police forces and I believe there is a clear need to differentiate the appearance of the military with actions being conducted by personnel wearing military style fatigues in Portland, Oregon right now. The dress code of the federal agents in the city is a deliberate attempt to blur the lines between the army and the police which undermines both establishments. However before dealing with the current situation it is important to understand why the police was formed and why there should be a clear separation between the army and the police.
Metropolitan Police Service was established on September 29th, 1829 in London by then Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel and was the first modern and professional police force in the world. The force was created, in part, due to fears over the deployment of the military in domestic affairs and was created to protect the people and be answerable to the public. As such the forced was organised along civilian, rather than military, lines including the absence of military ranks and titles with the exception of sergeant. And their appearance was deliberately blue and not red which, at the time, was a military colour. Every officer was also issued with a warrant card with a unique identification number to assure accountability for their actions. As Peel often said, “The police are the public and the public are the police.”
While soldiers often deploy on peace keeping missions, the main aim of the military is combat and they are equipped accordingly. This includes their clothing and military fatigues have a practical purpose, namely to blend into and allow the wearer to be camouflaged into one’s surroundings. The military also has various methods of identification; from cap badges and regimental insignia and acronyms to Drop Zone flashes (originally worn by airborne forces to designate unit) now worn by airborne and non airborne units alike. The military have clear rules of engagement in regards to use of force which includes the principle of escalation and not using unnecessary force.
Federal Police in Portland, Oregon
Federal agents have deployed to Portland in the role of a police force, yet their actions and their appearance has been cause for concern as it has led to escalated confrontations with local residents. Carrying no clear and defined methods of identification and wear only minimal ‘Police’ markings the agents have seized people from the streets, often without offering reason for doing so. And instead of looking to avoid confrontation, the agents have leapt to use of force as their first reaction; indeed the police deploy already wearing gas masks and helmets, which not only makes identification more difficult but is proof they’re expecting escalation. In regards to appearance the wearing of military camouflage serves no practical purpose as the agents do not seek cover or to hide. As such the comportment must be deliberate and the camouflage used to project military force to intimidate and cause fear.
As a veteran this blurring of the lines between the armed forces and a federal police force is concerning. Peace keeping and policing is based on trust rather than having to resort to force to obtain compliance from a population. Part of this trust is based on appearance as behaviour and appearance are linked; shedding of traditional police uniforms has, in Portland, led to the shredding of traditional police values and principles. This could cause the US, and potentially other, military future headaches when deploying on peace keeping operations; how will foreign populations trust and react having seen personnel in military clothing behave so aggressively to their own people?