Blogs > Liberty and Power > Why did Cops Stop Covering Their Guns?

Aug 25, 2008 11:03 am

Why did Cops Stop Covering Their Guns?

The first photo is of the El Paso police from 1917 in front of their paddy wagon and the second is a modern SWAT Team.

As the first photo shows, it was once standard practice for police officers to wear long jackets to cover up their guns, apparently lest they offend civilians. The cop of the beat in just about any Hollywood movie in the 1930s dressed similarly. Apparently, this was a vestige of an anti-militarist tradition. Now, of course, the police seem to proudly brandish their guns in public at every opportunity.

Does anyone know any of research on when and why the shift from the old tradition of covering up guns? Who pushed the change and who, if anyone, opposed it?

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Andrew D. Todd - 8/25/2008

For a background on the Los Angeles police, the originators of SWAT, see:

Joe A Domanick, _To Protect and Serve: The L. A. P. D.'s Century of War in the City of Dreams. _

The police department's history is integrated with the larger history of Los Angeles to provide a background for the Rodney King beating and the O. J. Simpson Trial.

There is also Joseph Wambaugh. I don't know if he is to be considered reliable about facts, and there was that weird case in Pennsylvania where he messed up a murder prosecution by doing something very close to witness tampering, apparently in order to be able to write a best-selling book about the case. However, he is about the best available source on what one might call the collective mind of the Los Angeles Police.

David T. Beito - 8/25/2008

Thanks for the cites. Great stuff

Andrew D. Todd - 8/25/2008

Susie Bernstein, et. al., _The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove: An Analysis of the U.S. Police_, The Center for Research on Criminal Justice, 1975, 2nd. ed.1977, chapter 9, "SWAT"

Dates the founding of SWAT to 1967, in response to the 1960's disorders.

You might also look at the idea of the motorcycle cop. There is an interesting scene in John Ford's film _They Were Expendable_ (1945)

Going by memory, it runs approximately as follows:

Scene in field hospital ward. Donna Reed (playing an Army nurse) says something salty to John Wayne (playing a patient, a Navy officer, Lieutenant, Junior Grade)

John Wayne: "What is your rank?!"

Donna Reed (sullenly): "Second Lieutenant."

John Wayne: "Well, I'm a Jaygee (*), so watch your language!"

(*) ie. he outranks her.

Donna Reed (with gentle feminine sarcasm): "Oh... [picks up his uniform cap, and looks at it closely]... I thought you were a motorcycle cop... [furiously] despite your gold braid, you don't tell us-- we tell you!!!"

It might be worth looking into precisely what the term "motorcycle cop" meant, and why it could be, in the right circumstances, a subtle insult.