City Paper is not for tourists
D.C. cops are in for some changes come 2007. And they won’t just be answering to a new chief, Cathy Lanier. Many of the city’s officers will also be answering to new badge numbers, and they’re not all thrilled about it.
Back in the fall of 2005, now-outgoing Chief Charles H. Ramsey ordered that the department bring order and security to its badge-numbering system. Whereas badge numbers have traditionally been issued more or less at random, Ramsey wanted to see a system in which numbers ascended according to rank. In other words, under the new system, the chief wears Badge No. 1, and the rest follow, down through commanders and lieutenants and crossing guards.
“It’s a pyramid concept,” explains Edward Hamilton, who is director of support services and was charged with developing the new badge system. “One of the concerns [under the old system] was that badge numbering didn’t have any rhyme or reason.…Now, if I saw a badge and it had number 8601 on it, I automatically know that’s a crossing guard, because those start with 8600.”
The new badges are more difficult to forge, Hamilton says, and they come with serial tracking numbers on the back. In the past, if a badge turned up “you couldn’t tell who had lost that badge” because it wasn’t serialized, says Hamilton. “Even if you retire, that number is still alive. Without having [serial numbers], you can’t tell if it’s a knockoff or a legitimate badge or who had it.”
Ranked officials have been getting their badges replaced over the course of the past year. General officers just recently received instructions to head down to the department’s equipment-and-supplies office to get their new shields. Their old badges will be incinerated.
D.C. police union head Kristopher Baumann says he’s been fielding complaints from officers ever since news of the badge switcheroo hit the departmentwide teletype on Dec. 6. The gist of their gripe: We don’t need no stinkin’ new badges.
“We’re spending thousands of dollars of taxpayer money?to institute a new badge system where we didn’t need to,” says Baumann. “That money could be for more patrol cars or more police officers.” He adds, “Officers have a sentimental attachment to badge numbers. I thought for morale you’d want to instill pride and a sense of continuity in officers.”
A number of officers speaking on condition of anonymity tell City Desk that they find the change in systems to be pointless. Furthermore, some of their co-workers are peeved about losing badge numbers they’ve identified with for years.
“Not to sound corny, [but] it’s something that has history to it,” says one cop. “When you’re an officer you take great pride in the number. Maybe it was a family member’s badge.…Some of them have a lot of significance to them. Some guys have had badges for 23 years.” The same cop says some officers who received recycled badge numbers have gone so far as to research the officers who wore their numbers before them. “Maybe it was someone who retired or passed away, you might have gotten theirs.”
But there’s more than just a romantic attachment. Cops commonly engrave their badge numbers on jewelry for themselves and family, and some go a step further. “I’m sure there are officers with their badge numbers [on license plates],” says Baumann. “And I’m sure there are officers with tattoos.”
Hamilton says he and officials were fully aware of the “obvious emotional attachments” at play. So while the department can’t do much for officers whose body ink turns obsolete overnight, Hamilton says the badge company can partially accommodate the clingiest of the city’s officers. “If you had that badge number for 20 years and want to keep a symbol of it, you can order the badge as a replica,” he explains.
Such a commemorative shield, Hamilton says, will even come in Lucite.