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The Law Enforcement Badge

2 knightsThrough the middle ages, knights, such as the order of St. John, shared both military and law enforcement responsibilities. During this time, the use of crosses or crests worn on the clothing or on a shield also became a method of identification among chivalric orders, valuable because faces were often shielded. As law enforcement later became a civilian issue rather than a military one, the use of insignias of knightly origin was retained.

In Colonial America, the early issue badges of urban Baltimore and Boston used badge designs influenced from English law enforcement, which were relatively ornate minted star medallions, with a seal of the city, and based on the Middle Ages star. This relatively ornate style of badge required the resources of a badge-maker, not widely available outside of eastern seaboard urban areas. Smaller towns sought a less expensive alternative. A much simpler 5, 6 or 7 point star was adopted instead, which could be individually engraved with the name of the city and department.

The orientation of the five point star was significant. It was always worn with the two points down, which signifies luck. Two points up symbolizes the horns of the devil, and evoke evil or bad luck.

As the cattle industry and mining expanded, so too did the number of people on the frontier. A means of marking the local Peace Officer soon became necessary. Lack of local badge-makers meant such lawmen had to make their badges from materials at hand. The tin star evolved as a star cutout from the top or bottom of a tin can. Another popular method of making a badge was to use a coin and cut out a star from the center. The Texas Rangers cut a star shape from a coin: the 1800s Mexican Ocho Reales (pieces of eight). In 1962 the Rangers resumed this practice using the 1940s Mexican Cinco Peso coins.

As the frontier grew in the latter 1800s, so did badge sophistication. Badge-makers produced stock badges that could be brought to the lawman’s office and engraved on site. Eventually badgemakers became widespread, and badge manufacture became a nearly universal die struck process as it remains to this day.

Probably more often than any other symbol, the badge of the department is chosen to adorn one of the sides of the police coin as an apt representation of an important membership.

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