Honor of the Badge
By Paul F. Williams, M.S.
I addressed this class of apprentice police officers on day one, back in January, and promised them that throughout the upcoming training, they would be tested mentally, physically, and emotionally. If asked, I know they would agree that the last six months have done just that. The challenges they faced came from all angles, and each individual, no doubt, has a favorite (or not) that they had to overcome to succeed. It’s gratifying for me to see all of you here tonight and to celebrate with these recruits the culmination of their efforts. For the family and friends of each of these young men, thank you for all you have done to create an environment where your loved ones can be successful, and thanks, in advance, for your continued support as they move out of the classroom and into the field.
As I considered what to speak about tonight, realizing I wanted to address not only the recruits but also each of you in attendance, my thoughts kept returning to one very appropriate topic: the badge. As we move through the evening’s activities, you will hear from various people, see awards presented, get a glimpse into academy life, and learn a little about each of the recruits as they step forward to shake hands and receive their certificates. But, more important to each of them, as they cross the stage and shake my hand, I will present them with a Springfield, Missouri, Police Department (SPD) badge. For all the accolades and achievements this class has garnered, receiving the badge is the true realization of their dream and the official recognition of their graduation from recruits or apprentices to officers.
The badge is the one item that the recruits don’t receive until tonight. Every other piece of equipment is issued and used during training: guns, handcuffs, batons, pepper spray, flashlight, vests, and many others. This equipment has served them well, and with it they have passed all their tests and practical exercises. They all are Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Class A certified law enforcement officers. (I double checked, and, yes, each of you passed the certification exam!). They traded in their grey-and-black recruit uniforms this morning and are wearing their SPD blues tonight—but without a badge. I remember that feeling, the excitement of knowing all the hard work had been worth it and the uniform I was wearing was soon to be complete with the addition of the final most important piece, my badge. At the end of our ceremonies tonight, you will have the honor of pinning on the badges of your recruits and serving as witnesses as they make that final transition from recruit to officer.
The website Wikipedia defines badge as “a device or accoutrement, often containing the insignia of an organization, which is presented or displayed to indicate some feat of service, a special accomplishment, a symbol of authority granted by taking an oath, a sign of legitimate employment or student status, or as a simple means of identification.”1 We see its use throughout American law enforcement history, especially in the Old West. Every town had a marshal or sheriff denoted not by a uniform or special clothing or equipment, but by the badge he wore on his chest—a sign to all that he represented law and order. This was a given, known throughout the land, that if you wore a badge, you were legitimate and had authority. A posse was deputized simply by having each man swear an oath, and he was handed a badge.
From Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke to Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, examples of this abound through literature and film. My favorite is from The Treasure of the Sierre Madre, a 1948 film starring Humphrey Bogart. In one scene, Bogart and his partner take cover in the rocks as a large band of Mexican banditos rides in. The leader calls for him to come out, stating that he has nothing to fear as they are the policia, the federales. Bogart responds, “If you’re the police, show me your badges.” The classic reply? “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” which is met by immediate gunfire. The ready assumption is evident—no badge equals no police—no further explanation is necessary.
Chief Williams heads the Springfield, Missouri, Police Department.Chief Williams heads the Springfield, Missouri, Police Department.
But, I think we can go back even further in history to form the basis for our traditional use of a badge. Merriam-Webster states that a badge is “a device or token especially of membership in a society or group, or an emblem awarded for a particular accomplishment” and that the first badges were used in the 14th century.2 These were an outgrowth from the shields used by warriors and knights in the Middle Ages. The forerunners to today’s SPD badge might be items, such as the buckler and the targe. The buckler was a small metal round shield that was carried on a belt and used for hand-to-hand combat by soldiers and knights into the 16th century. The targe was a small, round metal shield used by Scottish clans that was effective against bayonets, cavalry swords, and, even, firearms in close-in fighting. Bucklers and targes were emblazoned with the knight’s emblem or family crest, much like our badge contains an eagle, the seal of the state of Missouri, and the words “Springfield Police.”
It is appropriate that during the police academy, analogies to knights are used to highlight training experiences. The knights of old believed in the Code of Chivalry. They promised to defend the weak, be courteous to all women, be loyal to their king, and serve God at all times. Knights were expected to be humble before others, especially their superiors. They also were expected not to “talk too much”—in other words, not to boast. The Code of Chivalry demanded that a knight give mercy to a vanquished enemy. It also appears that there is a direct correlation between the ancient Code of Chivalry and the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, which states:
On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution and community I serve.
In many ways, today’s police officers are modern day knights, and the badge is their shield.
Even the Bible contains a knightly reference. In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul extols us to “put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground,” and he continues, “with all this take up the shield of faith.”3 This certainly applies to each and every one of us in uniform. In today’s world, who but police officers are tasked with facing the worst in society and not shirking from this duty, standing our ground to protect others. It also is interesting to me that Paul equates faith with the shield. Think about it. That which you must make a conscious decision to believe in equates to that which you use to deflect and protect yourself from attack, in addition to the rest of your armor. I encourage each of you to take this to heart and to have faith in God, your fellow officers, your training, your education and experience, and your family, all exhibited in the badge you will wear.
While in the academy, the recruits pass a shadow box with their badges in it every day when they enter the classroom, providing a visual image of the goal they hope to attain. Why, you may ask, is the badge such a unique item that we hold onto until now, protect and guard, and keep seemingly just out of reach for six months? After all, isn’t it just a piece of metal? Aren’t the Missouri POST Class A license and the SPD commission card—with my signature—more important, and don’t they carry more weight? While it is true that those things are needed as support behind the badge, the badge is the symbol of authority; it is a public display of a police officer’s acceptance of the responsibility that comes with that authority. It is a visible sign that the wearer is a person of integrity, character, and courage, as well as an example of the commitment to the sworn oath the officer has taken to serve and protect and a means of connecting police officers to the community that entrusts them with providing for their safety and security.
It is not something to take lightly. The pride of wearing the badge transcends generations. A recent example in American Police Beat magazine detailed the family tradition tied to a badge in Chicago worn by four members of the same family for over three generations.4 As a third-generation police officer, I can understand the pride exhibited by this family in a badge and badge number. My father and grandfather wore the same badge in Detroit, Michigan, and it was retired from service when I chose to start my career in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Springfield, we issue badges with a department service number etched on it. These numbers also have meaning because they are chronological, depicting at a glance to your fellow officers your department seniority (we are in the 1600s now, and those with triple-digit numbers wear them proudly). But, we also make exceptions for legacy officers—family members wishing to wear the number of a retired officer. Now, for those in the audience who aren’t aware, the academy class is allotted a group of consecutive badge numbers, and, in the spirit of competition, they will be awarded tonight in order of their academic rank in the class—instant seniority for those at the top of the class and a reward for their achievement.
“It is appropriate
that during the police
to knights are used to
In closing, remember that I, too, have stood where you will stand, in front of family, friends, members of the SPD, elected officials, and residents of our community, while my wife pinned on my badge after I swore my oath. I know that, tonight, you will feel the same immense pride, honor, and sense of accomplishment, as well as the awesome responsibility that is bestowed upon you with that seemingly simple act. As this occurs this evening and from now on, every time you place that badge on your chest for the rest of your career, I charge you to reflect on one portion of the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor: “I will never betray my badge.” Congratulations, and may God bless each of you from this day forward.
“The pride of wearing the badge transcends generations.”