By Anthony Morgan, Retired Oakland Police Department
What is your badge or star worth to you?
To the new officer it is a sign that says “Look at what I have accomplished, look at what I am.” It doesn’t take long for the badge to become a part of the owner and the owner part of the badge. Maybe that is because it was earned through the trying months of the academy and field training, a successfully completed probation and becoming part of a team.
In the early years of a career the badge rarely leaves the officer. When not adorning the uniform it can be found on the pants belt or filling a badge wallet. It would not be a surprise to find that it was pinned to a shirt while sleeping. Before the newness wears off, the owner’s hand will periodically check to see if it’s still in place. Woe to the person that loses his or her badge.
As the years pass less thought is given to the badge. It becomes part of the daily uniform donning ritual, as common as just putting on a pair of socks. After a shift it frequently remains pinned to the uniform shirt and hung up in the locker to await another shift. Short of an occasional buffing no unusual thought is given to it.
As law enforcement officers we place a black band across the face of the badge in memory of a fellow cop who has fallen in the line of duty. We take a closer look at it and may start carrying it more often. We may think about the meaning of that piece of metal and appreciate it a bit more. When you see the badge of the fallen officer handed over to a family member you are made aware of the value it holds for the spouse, a child, a parent. They rub their fingers over the number, the agency name trying to get a sense of their officer.
It really isn’t until one leaves the police service that the importance of the badge is realized. That badge—your badge—was issued to you a long time ago. It was the ultimate sign that you took the “test” and were found worthy of that piece of designer metal. You were one of dozens, maybe hundreds, of individuals who attempted to meet the standard set so high for police officers.
Each day validated your fitness to be called a cop. You earned the right to wear that symbol of law and integrity by taking on the tasks that others could not or would not do. You sacrificed your youth to wear that badge honorably and to make a difference.
Eventually, the day comes that you walk into the Personnel Office and lay your badge on the counter. A part of you goes with it. That badge said who you were and what you have become. It accompanied you to every disturbance, every heart-wrenching call and, to every funeral. It is the symbol that made you stand apart from others who were not fortunate to wear the badge. That badge is yours. It sat on your chest next to your heart and became an extension of it. When that “cheap” piece of metal, which was paid for at such a high price, is handed over, so goes a piece of your soul and heart.
It is on that day that you remember what that badge did for you the first time you held it. The pride and the excitement that coursed through your mind and body. On your last day you are now aware how important that thing is to you and that it wasn’t just part of the uniform. For good or bad, it is you. It accompanied you on the path of spirited rookie to wizened veteran. And now retiree, who must hand it over.
Some departments have a badge waiting for the newly retired officer. It is something that can be displayed with pride in the following years. Often it is just a substitute for YOUR badge which will probably be resurfaced and reissued to another spirited rookie. Some departments issue a flat badge or nothing at all.
I was very lucky. My Sergeants star was an older style with a different design. I never compared it to any of the others, so I didn’t notice any difference. The Personnel officer said “wow, is that one old. I haven’t seen one of these in a few years. We’ll get you a new one with the ‘RETIRED’ flag on it.”
No way. I wanted my star. He assured me that he would get it back to me after the flag was attached. He was true to his word after many months of waiting. I still carry my star in a wallet to this day.
I happened to write a letter to my chief asking permission to have a copy of my Sergeant Star and my Police Officer Star made for a shadow box. I must have caught him on a good mood day. He granted my request. I have my Sergeant Star #209 and my Police Officer Star #426 hanging side by side along with other mementos on a wall in the house.
It is amazing that a cheap piece of metal with a shiny covering could mean so much. A lifetime of memories and dreams are embedded in each star. Each one is important to its bearer. I hope that everyone who wears a star or a shield will feel the same way.
What are my stars worth to me? They are priceless.
Oakland Police Department