A badge, also called a shield, is a highly recognizable symbol worn or possessed by peace officers.

There are many variations, shapes, styles and sizes, but they all mean the same thing. It is a symbol that someone has taken an oath. An oath to uphold the law, to be truthful, serve the public trust and protect the community.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover a brief history of the police badge and its different variations.


The first concept of a badge was used way before modern police agencies. Badges were worn as a symbol of loyalty to certain noble houses in medieval times. The badge eventually became an identifier of authority for law enforcement agencies throughout the world.

U.S. badges represent and denote things that are "American," such as five-point stars on the American flag or a bald eagle, which is the symbol of our country. Depending on which state you are in, that state's seal will generally be placed in the center of the badge.

After the U.S. became a country, star shaped badges were commonly used by larger departments. In the Old West, lawmen would use metal from tin cans, or coins to make badges. Star badges were easier to make than circles or shields.

Over time municipal departments were using custom shields as they could afford it. Eventually, badges started to include the name of the department or whatever branch of government they worked for.

The concept of wearing a badge over someone's heart is to symbolize the pledge or oath taken by that individual.


Because of old westerns and the general fascination of popular culture, one of the most recognizable badges is the Sheriff's star-shaped badge. Many sheriffs were the first lawmen in the country. When earlier sheriffs adopted a star symbol, tradition kept it going.

Today, nearly all of the sheriff's offices use a star-themed badge which varies from five-, six- and seven-point stars. They can be silver or gold in color. Most will denote the wording "deputy sheriff" and the county they are sworn in.

In the past, the actual deputy's name may have also been engraved on the badge, however in modern times generally the only person with his/her name engraved on the badge is the elected "Sheriff" or "Undersheriff."


In the 1930s, a design was introduced that is used by both local police, municipal and metropolitan police departments. The badge is in the shape of an oval shield with an eagle on top. Two ribbons are above the seal. The uppermost has the person's rank and the bottom ribbon has their last name. There are also two ribbons below the seal. An eagle on any badge usually signifies it as law enforcement.


This is a proprietary badge used originally and currently by the MIchigan State Police, and has been mirrored and adopted with a large portion of other departments across the state. The badge has a pear shape, with a high definition stamped or affixed state coat of arms (state seal), with a separate eagle affixed on top. A company in the Detroit area, called the Weyhing Brothers, was the original manufacturer of this badge style from 1903-1983.


When the Texas Rangers were originally formed, they carried no identification, making them easier to blend into crowds. There came a time that they needed a badge for identification, leading to some of the Rangers making their own badge.

This was commonly done by taking a Mexican silver coin and cutting a five-pointed star into the center of the soft metal or contracting a jeweler to create one. So, the original badges were nothing more than large pesos, flipped over with marks cut into them.


In 1845, the New York Police Department issued its first patrolman badge. It was in the shape of an eight-pointed star with a circle in the center that holds a design consisting of a coat of arms with a windmill on it. On either side of the coat of arms is a man, one being a Native American. Raised above the coat of arms is an eagle, and below is the word "police." The badge was made out of brass.

Modern day NYPD badges use a different style for every rank. The patrol officer has a shield only, a sergeant has a shield with an eagle on top, a detective has a round starburst with a bottom panel, a lieutenant has a starburst with no panel, and a captain is oval like with a crown and two leaf clusters. So, each rank has a unique shape and style.


Adopted in 1940, The L.A. police shield is perhaps the most famous oval badge. It also has various meanings. The border design is based on the fasces, or ancient Roman symbol of authority. The rays of a setting sun represent a West Coast location. There is also the iconic replica of city hall applied to the center.

This badge was originally issued with the title "policeman," which has now been changed to "police officer." You have probably most likely seen this badge on TV shows like Dragnet, Columbo and Adam-12.


Private Security Guard agencies are allowed to possess badges, but they are not to be similar to police badges that might confuse the public that they are law enforcement. In the past, no security guard badges were approved that had eagles on them, nor if they had a state seal anywhere on the badge.

Prior to 1968, private security guard agencies were not regulated meaning they could have any badge and even call themselves "private police." This is no longer the case.


Listed below are some provisions or prohibitions when possessing a police badge.

750.216a states:

"(1) A person shall not sell, furnish, possess, wear, exhibit, display, or use the badge, patch, or uniform, or facsimile of the badge, patch, or uniform, of any law enforcement agency unless any of the following apply:

(a) The person receiving or possessing the badge...is authorized to receive or possess the badge...by the chief officer of the law enforcement agency.

(b) The person receiving or possessing the badge...is a member of the law enforcement agency.

(c) The badge is a retirement badge and is in the possession of the retired law enforcement officer.

(d) The badge...of a deceased law enforcement officer and is in the possession of his or her spouse, child, or next of kin.

(e) The person receiving, possessing, exhibiting, displaying, or using the badge...is a collector of badges... A badge, patch, uniform, or facsimile possessed as part of a collection shall be in a container or display case when being transported.

(f) The person is in the theatrical profession and wears the badge...while actually engaged in following that profession.

(2) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor..."

There is also a provision specifically addressing the possession of a Michigan State Police badge.

750.216 states:

"A person who wears, exhibits, displays, or uses, for any purpose, the badge or uniform or a badge or uniform substantially identical to that prescribed by the 'department of state police' for officers of the department, unless he or she is a member of the department, is guilty of a misdemeanor..."

-- This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.