The History of the Cleveland Police Badge

by Lieutenant James J. O’Malley, Jr., Retired

The badge is probably the most identifiable feature of the American Police Officer’s uniform.  Today in the United States, police officers wear a badge as an identification mark and/or a symbol of their position. 

Various Cleveland Police badges

Patrol Officers generally wear silver-colored badges bearing individual identification numbers, Detectives carry numbered gold-colored badges, and Superior Officers – the rank of Sergeant and higher – wear unnumbered gold-colored badges on which their rank is spelled out.

The symbolism of the police badge – even to its coloring – is strong.  Not only do Superior Officers wear gold badges, the other emblems of rank they wear such as bars, oak leaves, eagles and stars usually are also gold colored.  Legend states the reason for this is that since gold is more valuable than silver, the gold badges of Detectives and promoted personnel signify their increased value to the agency.

However, although American police are a quasi-military organization, in the American military this coloring system is reversed: the lowest Commissioned Officer, a 2nd Lieutenant or an Ensign wears a gold bar; the next higher rank, a 1st Lieutenant, wears silver.  The same is seen in the adjacent ranks of Major and Lieutenant Colonel; while an Oak leaf signifies both ranks, the Major’s is gold and the Lieutenant Colonel’s is silver. The rank insignia of all other military officers is also silver.  This has been explained by the thought that although gold is more valuable than silver, you have to dig deeper to find silver than gold, i.e., not everyone can be an officer.

Patrolman Frank Wagner, #46 (appointed June 23, 1869) wearing the first Cleveland Police badge
Sergeant Herman Prang (appointed January 1, 1886) wearing the third Cleveland Police badge

Since new Patrol Officers, “Rookies,” are usually initially relegated to writing reports, personal experience showed me that a Rookie writes his badge number so often that it’s not unusual to include it when signing or endorsing a check.  But an Officer’s badge is much more than just an ID tag; it becomes part of the Officer’s persona, and in many instances, relatives of the original wearer wear the same badge number in succeeding generations.  And should an Officer be Killed in the Line of Duty, that badge will be permanently retired and given a place of honor.

The word “badge” has evolved from 14th century Middle English and is defined as a “device or token which denotes membership in a society or group” or, a “characteristic mark or emblem awarded for a particular accomplishment.”  The wearing of a Police badge is heavy with symbolism and the use of the shield-shaped badge heightens that idea since it depicts a piece of defensive armor formerly carried by warriors to protect and defend.

Although there has been organized law enforcement in Cleveland since 1836, the Cleveland Division of Police (as we know it) began May 1, 1866.  Since then, the Cleveland Police badge has been a characteristic emblem denoting membership in that organization.  And now, contrasting with the early days of “the department,” a badge is now awarded only after the wearer competes for the position and, then, successfully completes a rigorous mental and physical training program.

Patrolman John E. Gallagher, #160 (Appt. l July 17, 1888) wearing the third Cleveland Police badge
Patrolman Anthony Cerba #524 (appointed May 21, 1910) wearing the fourth and current Cleveland Police badge

Although there is scant factual information regarding the evolution of, and the specific reason for, the wearing of the badge, we are fairly certain that the first police badges were worn in New York City in 1845.  Experts seem to agree that, since American law enforcement descended from British roots, the wearing of a badge evolved in a similar manner from the European use of armor and coats of arms through the Middle Ages.

We also know that by the mid-nineteenth century the blue uniform was used to identify municipal Police Officers and that the metallic badges pinned to the left breasts of those uniforms symbolized their authority and the protection of the law.

Given the universal use of Police badges in this country, it is surprising that there is no uniformity in badges: the shape of an agency’s badge appears to depend on the geographic location of the agency and /or the field of law enforcement which it represents.  In the east, municipal police badges tend to be shield-shaped while in the west, many badges are star-shaped; in some jurisdictions such as New Orleans – the Crescent City – the shape of the badge (a five-point star surrounded by a crescent) denotes something about the city.  Federal badges seem to vary with the agency: the FBI has a shield, the Secret Service a star.

In some instances, laws may govern the size, shape and description of the badges of some police agencies, including Ohio Sheriffs; municipal police have no such direction in Ohio law.  County sheriffs in Ohio and many other states wear a five-point star shaped badge; but in still other states the stars have six or seven points.

Apparently, when this department was founded, the city fathers just followed the lead of then-existing departments such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York and adopted a miniature variation of a medieval shield.

Cleveland Plain Dealer11/05/1853
First Cleveland Police badge, 1866

The Cleveland Police Museum holds two of the three early-style badges issued to Cleveland Police Officers; based on inspections of old photos and the workmanship of the badges, we believe we know which is the original 1866 badge.  It was in the shape of a Renaissance-era shield with an early version of the Great Seal of the State of Ohio affixed to the center.  “CLEVELAND” was stamped above the seal and “POLICE” stamped below it with a small badge number stamped on the lower right side of the badge.

1866 Badge

This early Ohio seal, while similar to the seal in use today, shows a canal boat in the foreground in addition to the familiar sun rising over the hills of southern Ohio.  Although confusion remained for years over which seal was proper, the current seal was proscribed by law, and a Governor’s proclamation, after the Civil War.

The next Cleveland badge probably was initiated after 1870 and was only slightly different from the “Canal Boat Seal Badge” in that the number on the newer badge was stamped at the very bottom-center of the badge and a current-style Ohio Seal was affixed by what appears to be a more modern method.

Cleveland Plain Dealer 05/16/1874
Second Cleveland Police badge, early 1870s

1890s Badge

Then, in 1876, a change in the law mandated that the Cleveland Police convert from a Metropolitan agency to a Municipal agency.  On April 11 of that year, the entire Metropolitan Department was dismissed; the next day most of the dismissed members were rehired by the Municipal Department.  Although we don’t know it to be factual, substantial information from that era indicates that another, different, badge was then adopted, and worn until 1908. [Editor’s Note: Since this article was written the Police Museum has identified the badge used during this period.]

While the new badge still was an older style shield, it was a little more ornate than the prior badges and bore a heraldic scroll that announced “CLEVELAND POLICE” in raised letters surrounding the state seal.  Below the Seal, a space was provided where either a much larger badge number could be stamped or a plate stating the Officer’s rank could be attached.  Badges issued to Patrolmen were silver colored and supervisor’s badges appeared to be made of brass.

Current Badge
Cleveland Plain Dealer 10/19/1908

In the early days of this department, officers wore numbers on their helmets that corresponded with the number of the Precinct they were assigned to. When the current badge style was introduced about 1907, the metal cap device, called a wreath, contained the officer’s badge number surrounded by a set of laurel wreaths. Even more symbolism is seen here as the wearing of laurel wreaths around the head has been seen as a symbol of honor since the days of the ancient Greek civilization. Although the laurel wreath is no longer used, the cap device is still referred to as a wreath.

Another point of interest regarding uniforms in the late nineteenth century is the “Keystone Cops” style helmets worn by police.  A note in a history of the New York Police Department states that they were worn from about 1880 until 1910, when they were replaced by a more modern cap which was less likely to be lost when riding in an open motor vehicle or a bicycle.  Cleveland Police Officers switched styles about the same time and have worn the current eight-point caps since the late 1930s.

Helmet with laurel wreath

Laurel Wreath
Eight point cap with standard wreath

As previously mentioned, the current Cleveland Police badge and wreath were adopted in 1908.  This badge, a wide-bellied shield 2 ½” high by 2 ¼” wide, is stamped from a brass blank and is a more modern variation of a Renaissance-era shield than earlier models, with a more ornate face on a grainy background: it carries only the words “Cleveland Police” in raised letters on the scrolls with the Officer’s badge number or rank affixed to the center.  Patrol Officer’s badges are chrome-plated, and Supervisor’s are gold-plated with a rank plate, spelling the rank in gold lettering against a blue enamel background, affixed to the center of the badge.

Current standard wreath

The current wreath design, which seems to have also been favored in Beaux Arts architecture, consists of yet another medieval shield topped by a modernized version of the heraldic “Eagle Displayed.”  The body of the shield contains the Patrol Officer’s badge number, or the Supervisor’s rank, and the Ohio State Seal.  The eagle, seal and badge number indicate, symbolically, that although we are municipal Police Officers our authority flows from the laws of the United States and the State of Ohio.  Architectural devices, similar to our wreath, can be seen on the cornices of the Old Federal Building on Public Square, a Beaux Arts style building which was completed in 1912.

Aside from their official and symbolic uses, police badges also had a utilitarian function.  Until 1974, when Cleveland’s Codified Ordinances were revised, the “Knife Ordinance” set the legal length of knife blades at 2 ½ inches or less.  The easiest way for an officer to determine a knife’s legality was to hold it against his badge: if the blade was longer than the height of the badge, it was illegal.

In September 2002, although the Cleveland Division of Police consisted of a total of 1,886 Sworn Personnel, including over 300 Superior Officers, Patrol Officer Badge numbers through 2599 were in use.  There are several reasons for this circumstance: first and foremost, the badge numbers of all Patrol Officers and Detectives killed in the line of duty are honorably retired.  Next, while badge numbers of members who otherwise leave the division or are promoted, are eventually reassigned, they generally remain unassigned for a period of time to give the administrative process time to catch up with the changes.

Eventually, as new Patrol Officers are appointed, unassigned badges are reassigned to the Rookies, generally in alphabetical order, i.e., Officer Able would generally get the lowest available number and Officer Zebra would get the highest.  Those officers then usually retain the same badge number until they are promoted or leave the service.  However, sometimes upon request, badge numbers that formerly had been assigned to a relative are reserved for, or assigned to, newly hired Patrol Officers.

In one known case, the same badge number remained in the same family for over fifty years.  A man served as a Cleveland Police Officer from 1921 until he retired in early 1946 and his badge was placed in inventory.  His son then became an Officer in late 1946 and was assigned the fathers old badge number which he wore until his retirement in 1972.

Badge for:
Fred W. Bartlett, Badge Number 1050; Appointed 02/01/1921; Retired 06/23/1946; End of Watch 06/23/1946.
Fred C. Bartlett, Badge Number 1050; Appointed 07/16/1946; Retired 01/01/1972; End of Watch 11/20/1996.
Wreath for:
Fred W. Bartlett, Badge Number 1050; Appointed 02/01/1921; Retired 06/23/1946; End of Watch 06/23/1946.
Fred C. Bartlett, Badge Number 1050; Appointed 07/16/1946; Retired 01/01/1972; End of Watch 11/20/1996.

A block of 100 badge numbers, 1400-1499, had not been used for several years.  These numbers formerly were assigned to “Ambulancemen,” a classification of Cleveland Police officer that no longer exists.  In the 1930’s, a city ambulance service – similar to EMS and closely identified with the Division of Police – existed within the Department of Public Safety.  These unarmed ambulance attendants – who wore police-type uniforms – provided immediate response to all types of medical emergencies, from automobile accidents to shootings and, then as now, often arrived on the scene before the Police.

After several ambulance attendants were attacked while performing their duties, the entire cadre of ambulance attendants was assimilated into the Division of Police without being tested.  Although they then were armed, they were not sworn Police Officers and did not have arrest powers.  They were classified as “Ambulancemen” and were assigned badge numbers from 1400-1452, in order to differentiate them from regularly sworn members of the force.

Some Ambulancemen later took the Civil Service test and became sworn Police Officers, but many retained their original classification throughout their careers; in later years some were assigned to Police Radio or various other administrative assignments.  Badge numbers 1453–1499 never were issued and the lower numbers in this series have never been reissued, although there no longer are any Ambulancemen on the Division’s rolls.

Ambulance Attendant Badge
Cleveland ambulancemen, circa 1900

Although it doesn’t affect the number of badges currently in use, it should be mentioned that during World War II, in order to deal with the emergency, the city appointed Temporary Police Officers.  Between September 1942 and the end of the war approximately 290 Temporary Officers were hired without their having taken Civil Service tests.  They were issued badge numbers in the 1200 and 1300 series along with some numbers in the regular series.

On July 15, 1946, all Temporaries were laid off, but those who were eligible for hire under Civil Service Rules were allowed to take tests for a permanent job and, those hired were then issued badges in the regular series.  Eventually, as the number of officers grew after the War, the 1200 and 1300 badge numbers were again utilized.

The highest badge numbers still in use, the 2500 series, were assigned initially in 1973 when the Division had over 2,000 Patrol Officers.  While some of the 2500 numbers still are worn by their original recipients, some have been reissued over the years.

Until the late 1970’s another special series of badge numbers was used.  Up to that time, most female members of the Division of Police were assigned to the Women’s Bureau, which primarily handled complaints in which females or children were involved as victims or as criminal participants.  All female officers were assigned badge numbers in the 3000 series.

Policewomen’s badges were smaller than standard issue badges for policemen until all officers had the same badge, starting in 1978 (Academy Class photo dated Jan 15, 1958)

In 1973, after several lawsuits, the first females hired by Cleveland for non-Women’s Bureau duty came into the Division.  Although they were assigned to work as Evidence Technicians, they were also assigned 3000 badge numbers.  Shortly thereafter, the Women’s Bureau was abolished, and its former members were reassigned to various units throughout the Division.  Then, in 1978, all female officers were reassigned available badge numbers within the regularly numbered series.

Departmental Notice dated March 17, 1978 with list of reassigned badges for female police officers
Esterlene Powers’ new identification card

Badge for Esterlene Powers, #3039
Hat wreath for Esterlene Powers, #3039

The last series of Cleveland Police badges formerly issued by the City were those of the old Dancehall Inspectors who were commissioned by the Department of Public Safety to work for, and ensure proper conduct at, the various dance halls within the city.  They wore Cleveland Police-type uniforms, without shoulder patches and were issued Cleveland Police badges and wreaths in the 5000 series.  Dancehall Inspectors are no longer in existence.

Dance Hall Inspector Richard P. Towns, who served from 1923 to 1948
Letter authorizing the creation of a Dance Hall Inspector badge dated 1961

Badge for a Cleveland Police lieutenant

While supervisors in the Cleveland Division of Police do not routinely use badge numbers as such, since the 1960’s each supervisor has been assigned an individual identification number based on his or her rank and seniority date, which is primarily used for administrative purposes.  Sergeant’s ID numbers are in the 9000 range, Lieutenants – 8000, Captains -7000 and so forth.  Each time an Officer is promoted, a new ID number is issued.

In my case, my Seniority Number as a Sergeant was 9365; as a Lieutenant it was 8245.  The Lieutenant with #8244 was promoted immediately before me and #8246 was one behind me on the promotion list.  To the best of my knowledge, none of these numbers have yet been recycled.

In some cities, Badge #1 is always assigned to the Senior Patrol Officer; as that Officer leaves the service, it is reassigned to the new Senior Officer.  No such tradition exists in the Cleveland Division of Police.

The Cleveland Police Badge Case where we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Their badge numbers have been retired from service. March, 2022

This article would not have been possible without the generous contributions of the following people:

  • Chief James D. Pancoast, Rocky River Police (Retired)
  • Captain Pat Olvey, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (also Lieutenant, Cincinnati Police, Retired)
  • Lieutenant Gerald Seger, Cleveland Police (Retired)
  • Sergeant Jacqueline Christ, Cleveland Police (Retired)
  • David Holcombe, former Executive Director Cleveland Police Historical Society

James J. O’Malley Jr. served as a Cleveland Police Officer from 1964 until 1991, retiring as a Lieutenant.  A long-time member of the Cleveland Police Historical Society, he worked on a number of volunteer projects for the Cleveland Police Museum.  Lieutenant O’Malley passed away on May 15th, 2012.

Lieutenant “Bud” O’Malley

Reprinted from the 2002 Cleveland Police Commemorative Album.

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