There is a proposal or move by the Baltimore Police Department to allow officers to remove their name tags from their uniforms. The reason is because of the potential “doxing” of officers by those who would do such, jeopardizing the safety of the officers and their family members. I believe we should do everything possible to ensure the safety of the people in law enforcement and their family members. This group puts forth a huge effort to help maintain and improve the quality of life in the communities they serve.
I would also say I don’t think this is a good idea.
We are in a time where public confidence with police transparency and public trust is in a lower state than many would like. Many people in communities do not feel the police are there for their benefit. Relationships between law enforcement and the publics they serve are strained in many cities and towns throughout the US. At a time when we should be working to strengthen relationships, a move away from associating a name with an officer is detrimental to that improvement. I believe there are a couple strong reasons to look past a possible displaying of an officer’s information on the internet and retain names on police uniforms.
The public already doesn’t recognize police officers as people. We associate people with their names. We feel like we know someone when we know their name or can call them by name. This breeds a familiarity and association as a fellow human being having value. When we remove that ability to associate by name and use, say, a badge number, we are doing something that disconnects that relationship and places the person begin referred to by a number in a position less than human.
In a drastic example, consider Jews and others placed in concentration camps. They became the number tattooed on their arms. This debasing and dehumanizing amplified the ability to be cruel and barbaric. The lack of a name association worked to distance the abuser from the abused. It allowed the abuser to not feel accountability to another human. Of course, the officer reduced to a badge number is not in such a negative situation, but the same distancing and lack of accountability remains.
People who are willing to dox officers will still do it. The lack of a name on a shirt will do little to stop them. There are too many other ways to discover an officer’s identity and personal information. They can follow the officer home. They can easily find the officer’s social media presence, or other public records. Many agencies have full agency photo, with name, posters in the lobby of the department. The negative cost to the overall public image and trust is not recouped by the perceived safety given to officers by hiding their identity.
I have seen the profession of law enforcement engaged in an effort to “humanize the badge”. This is a promotion to get the public to see police officers as humans, as people too. There are advertisements, public service announcements, and countless social media efforts by agencies to show police officers and law enforcement officers as people and community members first. Removing names from uniforms is antithetical to this effort. It presents a desire to obscure and hide one’s identity. Customarily one hides one’s identity when they wish to engage in activity for which they do not want to be held accountable or recognize is illegal. All law enforcement recognizes this belief, which is why no face covering costumes can be worn into banks (prior to COVID-19), and even cartoons depict robbers and criminals wearing little black masks that obscure facial detection and recognition.
Law enforcement and public safety is intended to protect and safeguard our communities. The fundamental role of police officers is to establish and grow positive relationships in their communities. These relationships are between the public and the law, and the public with each other. If we promote and cultivate such relationships, we will see a strengthening of communities and reduction in crime. But for this to happen, the public must intrinsically trust its law enforcement officers.
The public must believe the police are pure of intent and pure of mission. In this time, law enforcement may need to go the “extra mile” to reassure the public. At the very least, law enforcement should not worry about the public’s thoughts now, since we cannot control those thoughts. We can only control our own actions and, through them, demonstrate to the public our noble intent.