You grew up in the fascist government of the UFS, under the complete control and surveillance of the NAF party. It’s government it tyrannical and unfeeling, but you would never know that. The governments narrative is the only one put forward, and most of the lower-class population are brainwashed into believing whatever the NAF party says. But then, there are some rebel scums that don’t agree with the party. That’s were the NSP come in...


The NSP, or National Secret Police, keep dissidents and rebel scums from trying anything, like spreading propaganda or assassinating public officials. They are above the law and answer only to President Stevenson himself. Their missions are...classified...and rebel scums like McConnell and Parker often…disappear, never to be seen again.

About 5 years ago, Stevenson gave out an extremely classified order to the secret police. The NSP were made to wear civilian clothing, instead of the usual, imposing uniforms they usually wear.

This aspect of the dystopia is important for my story, although the reason is to long the spell out here. My question is, why would the government make the NSP wear normal civilian clothing, instead of normal uniforms?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Are you sure you thought this one through? As I see it, secret policepeople cannot possibly wear uniforms. (Hint: the uniforms would sort of give them away.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 11, 2018 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @AlexP. The answer seems.... obvious. The more interesting question is why the secret police started off wearing imposing uniforms. What could possibly cause a government to put their secret police in such obvious uniforms? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 12, 2018 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon: Oh, I guess I’m stupid. $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Aug 12, 2018 at 6:58

5 Answers 5


They would wear civilian clothes for the same reason burglars don't actually wear ski masks and carry big bags with dollar signs on them; they don't want to stand out.

Just like burglars, the secret police will be more successful if they're actually secretive. You don't want possible dissidents to notice you; they'll avoid looking guilty in front of you then. You want possible dissidents to think you're their ally, so they will leak sensitive information to you.

Look at 1984 by George Orwell. The secret police succeed in outing and defeating our protagonist, Winston. Mr. Charrington and Mr. O'Brien don't wear snazzy Nazi-esque uniforms, they dress like civilians. They trick Winston into thinking they're rebel sympathizers until he lets his guard down and admits his anti-government opinions.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Yes. The Thinkpol are among us. Anyone might be Thinkpol. Maybe everyone is Thinkpol. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 11, 2018 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Whatchu talkin' 'bout @Willk? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 11, 2018 at 23:06

The Orwellian Thought Police are the obvious analogy here, and @Ryan_L got that one. In analogy to my answer to the related question here: Logical reason why dystopian government controls what people wear?

The police wear civilian clothes because that saves money.

The dystopian state is frugal. It is economically sound to produce one set of clothes. It is a waste of resources to use different fabric, different designs - for what? Money spent on retooling factories or different fabric types could be better spent on food, education and fuel.

So: all clothes are the same fabric, same color, same trim.

Travail, Patrie, Frugalité.

  • $\begingroup$ It's also worth pointing out that the rank-and-file, at least, of the secret police are still not very powerful citizens. They wear drab clothing as a reminder of their position, the same as anybody else. The upper ranks might be an exception. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 11, 2018 at 22:26

The NSP has many departments. Some wear their uniform almost all the time, some wear it occasionally, some wear it almost never (unless they're getting a medal or attending the funeral of a comrade). As it happens, five years ago the largest uniformed department became much smaller, and also became a non-uniformed department. To the man on the street, NSP uniforms suddenly disappeared from sight.

They're not traffic cops, they're secret police.

For certain tasks, the uniform (black and imposing, I believe) is appropriate. So each officer has one, with shiny rank tabs and a polished party membership pin. They may be worn when the secret police wants to act overt and unsubtle.

But mostly overt action has been farmed out to the ordinary beat cops. There are literally millions of them, you see one at every corner and you are supposed to see one at every corner. This is a significant expense on the government payroll, possibly rivaling that that of the secret police. No need to duplicate the ordinary police by putting an unsecret policeman next to the ordinary cop. Not any more. In the early days it was different, see below.

You are not supposed to see a secret policeman at work. You are supposed to worry all the time that one may be watching you.

  • That lady at the supermarket checkout, is she noticing that you buy twice as much milk as usual? Do you have a visitor from out of town who is not registered with the police?
  • The janitor of your tenement block, it is almost a given that he's an informer or he wouldn't have gotten that job. Probably a veteran too old for the frontlines.
  • The primary school teacher of your kids, she is noticing what they say about the Dear Leader, but is she also writing reports?

To compare your fictional totalitarians with real ones, the German Democratic Republic had a secret police with 90,000 full-time staff and 170,000 informers out of a population of 17 million. They also had an overt police with 80,000 full-time officers and 180,000 reserves.

What happened five years ago?

Historically, your totalitarians took power in a violent struggle with all other ideologies. Say your secret police grew out of a party organization, in part to bring the regular police into line. They got their (black and imposing) uniforms to trigger fear and instant obedience in the regular cops, who would then bash heads to trigger fear and headaches in the people.

At the same time, the secret police would recruit a network of informers and use plainclothes officers to manage them. Some of them were ordinary police, who took a second oath, got a second personnel file, and mostly carried on with their jobs. Others were teachers, clerks, old grandmothers.

Over the decades since the glorious revolution this informer network and their handlers grew in importance relative to the uniformed branch of the secret police. By now all regular cops are second or third generation citizens of the dystopia, they don't need a NSP officer watching over their shoulder at all times. So five years ago the cop-watching department of the NSP got lost in an administrative shuffle, by far the largest uniformed NSP department at the time. (Other uniformed NSP units include their SWAT team, some of their forensic people, and the guards at their prisons and other installations.)

Why keep this secret?

Obviously the size and disposition of the police forces, both overt and secret, are state secrets. It wouldn't do if the citizens realize that there are almost a hundred of them for each police officer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Q: Why did they switch from uniforms to plain clothes? A: They didn't. I like that approach! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 12, 2018 at 7:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon, oh, but they did switch. Or rather, the most visible uniformed department disappeared. The only visible one, if one doesn't visit a NSP office or becomes the target of an overt raid. Come to think of it, there will be an army-watching department, but those might wear army uniforms with special rank badges. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Aug 12, 2018 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ It's a great lesson. I found it best described in the movie Catch Me If You Can. "Do you know why the Yankees keep winning the world series? It's because the other team is too busy looking at their pinstripes." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 12, 2018 at 16:47

An important joint announcement from Aaron Stranglehold, Minister of Interior Affairs, and Franklin Kicbüt, Minister of Defense

August 11, 2018 — In a joint announcement today Interior Affairs Minister Aaron Stranglehold and Defense Minister Franklin Kicbüt revealed a bold new strategy to protect the citizens of Bestlünd from the growing threat of infiltration, espionage, counterfeiting, and murder from fascist Bæweilderlünd.

As this journalist has recently reported, evidence of increasing aggression from Bæweilderlünd, until recently a peacful and democratic nation but now experiencing an increasing representation of socialistic partisanship with influence believed to reach the highest levels of its government, has been released from guarded but scrupulous sources associating Bæweilderlünd interests with recently uncovered attempts to infiltrate Bestlünd law enforcement, compromise the stable security of our leading corporation, Fülendălah-sünpöted, and the discovery of counterfeit dălah bills with the potential of destabilizing our national economy.

To this end Ministers Stranglehold and Kicbüt have announced the patriot defense initiative to protect our citizens and our national interests from infiltrators and dissidents. The patriot defense initiative places trained police throughout our nation — hidden from the prying eyes of infiltrators and dissidents and ready at a moment's notice to step in and protect the state.

Minister Kicbüt assures me the training for these new patriots is second to none world-wide and will guarantee efficient removal of threats with little or no disruption of our nation's peace and prosperity. Minister Stranglehold, always standing proud and regal in his defense of the people, comforts us with his guarantee that patriots will be placed to protect all national interests including our most strategic businesses, government facilities, universities, and centers of worship. Both ministers welcome the patriots who, when not called upon to serve the State, will work toward our daily prosperity alongside all other citizens of Bestlünd.

This has been Servyu Cräpolah, reporting from the capitol.

TL;DR (which wounds me deeply)

Your dystopian government doesn't need a reason to use plainclothes police — they need a rationalization. And like most rationalizations, it will appear appeasing and beneficial to the populace while ultimately being entirely self-serving to the State in its goal to control the people.


At least in France but I expect it to be the same accross the world, traditional neighborhood police sometimes operate dressed as civilians when they don't want to be noticed.

I remember that in middle school a group of four policemen would monitor the exit in the evening for a few weeks after reports of violent bullying between pupils. The only way we knew they were policemen is that we once saw them with the characteristic orange band they put around their arms when they want to use of their authority but do not wear a uniform.


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