On my last trip through an airport, I noticed some of the different law enforcement uniforms that were working in the security area. They had different kinds of uniforms and badges, and all seemed to be doing distinct jobs. I assumed that meant they all worked for different agencies and had different responsibilities around policing and law enforcement. After I gathered my bags and started the walk to my gate, I began wondering: what are the different types of police badges?
There are many different types of police badges. These badges provide information to the public about what agency the officer works for, and even which department within that agency. Most police badges will have a badge number that is the identification number for the officer. Some common police badges that you might see include:
- Uniformed police officers
- Police detectives
- State police officers
- Highway police officers
- Fish, wildlife, and game wardens
- Park police officers
- Air marshals
- Border patrol agents
- Transit and railroad officers
- FBI and other federal agents
Why Are Police Badges Important?
Police badges are important because they indicate to civilians that that person is an officer of the law and is there to “protect and serve” the community they work in. Badges are the most recognizable symbol that indicates someone is a police officer or other member of law enforcement. Police officers are often the first to arrive at the scene of an accident, crime, or fire and their badge helps indicate the authority they have to take control until further help has arrived.
Although police enforcement can be a controversial topic, most people still look to police officers for assistance when there is a troubling situation. Having their police badge visible helps them be identified by those in need, and also connotes authority in chaotic situations. Officers who are on duty will typically have their police badge on display, and officers who are off duty can be asked to show their police badge if they are intervening in or assisting with a situation.
Local and Municipal Police Departments
When you hear the word “police,” these local and municipal police officers are likely the ones that come into your mind first. You can find these officers patrolling the streets of your town or city, usually wearing the traditional blue police uniform. They move about their business using various sorts of transportation, including walking their beat, bicycles, cars, SUVs, motorcycles, and even horses!
They’re responsible for the first level of response to calls of distress, such as an accident or a crime. They also help provide additional security for large events, such as concerts or conferences, as well as ongoing construction projects. Police officers are trained in many different de-escalation techniques and crowd control methods, as well as safety and first aid.
These patrol officers will wear their police badges displayed prominently on their uniform. The shape may be a shield or a star with five or six points. Individual police departments may customize their police badges so that it’s easy to see at a glance what police department an officer is from.
One level above patrol offices are police detectives. These officers don’t wear the traditional police uniforms in their day-to-day work but wear business attire instead. Instead of attaching their badge directly to their clothing, they’ll wear it on their belt or on a lanyard. For formal occasions, they will wear a special police uniform that identifies their detective status, along with a displayed police badge.
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs often perform the same duties as police officers, but at the county level. If a home or business is located outside of the city limits it is likely that a sheriff or deputy sheriff will be the ones to respond to an emergency situation. The jurisdiction of a sheriff’s department may include many towns and cities within a single county. Many officers who work in the sheriff’s department have already worked as traditional police officers in a municipal unit and thus are already trained in law enforcement practices and techniques.
One thing that makes sheriffs different from their police chief counterparts is that they are elected by members of the community they serve. This means that they are directly responsible to the voters who elected them, and can be voted out of office if their community feels they are not performing their job well. The sheriffs then select deputy sheriffs to serve with them in protecting the community.
The badges that sheriffs and deputies wear are similar to police departments and are typically either a shield or star shape. They’ll have the name of the county that issued them, as well as a badge identification number. Sheriff badges are usually gold or silver in color, although some counties also use different colors on their badges.
Game and Wildlife Wardens
Fish, game, and wildlife wardens are tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations that are in place specifically to protect wildlife. They usually work within either state conservation departments or federal agencies and spend time both in the office and out in the field. When they’re in the field, these officers may get around on foot, in an off-road vehicle, or a boat.
These special officers usually focus on the rules around hunting, fishing, and general wildlife conservation. They may patrol areas within their specific jurisdiction to ensure everyone is following the rules and can write tickets or detain people who are violating the laws. Additionally, these officers help lead search and rescue operations in their areas and can also investigate other complaints or accidents.
Their badges will clearly identify the primary office they work for, whether that’s local, state or federal. State offices will have the state name on their badge as well. These badges sometimes include images of wildlife or nature and are usually round or star-shaped.
Special Jurisdiction Officers
Sometimes there are distinct areas that make use of special jurisdiction officers. These police officers are sworn law enforcement officers, but they have a very limited scope of authority. These officers usually train and gain experience within a municipal police department before becoming a special jurisdiction officer.
Some common kinds of special jurisdiction officers are:
- College and university campuses (where they’re often called Public Safety officers)
- Transportation districts, such as a railroad line or subway system
- Airports and marinas
- Park police officers
- Correctional center officers
- Fire marshalls (can only investigate arson-related cases)
- Native American reservations
Special jurisdiction officers will wear badges that clearly indicate what their jurisdiction is, usually by listing the name of the university, transport system, airport, or reservation that they belong to. These badges may be round or oval and indicate the wearer is a member of law enforcement. They will also include the identification number and are usually gold or silver in color.
State and Highway Patrol Officers
State and highway patrol officers are responsible for covering the entire state that they work in. Although they often have specific areas of patrol, they can perform law enforcement duties anywhere within the boundaries of that state. Despite the statewide privileges, state and highway patrol officers will typically defer to the local police or sheriff’s departments when dealing with an issue that occurs within their specific jurisdictions.
Different states may call these officers different things, such as the well known “chippies” or California Highway Patrol officers. They usually have one main office, often in the capital of the state, as well as smaller field offices throughout the state. Their primary directive is to patrol state roadways and respond to accidents. They also help with statewide criminal investigations and can provide backup services to other police units in that state.
State and highway patrol officers can often be distinguished from municipal police officers by wearing a different colored uniform. Their badges may look similar to the shield or star shape but will indicate they belong to a state police unit. Their identification number will be printed on the badge, as well.
There are many different kinds of federal agents, all of whom carry unique badges that identify the department they work for. They are responsible for investigations on the federal level and usually outrank local police departments. Federal agencies have a central office in Washington, DC, and additional field offices spread throughout the country. Most agents will train together at a central location before being assigned to a field office.
Each federal agency will have its own unique badge that agents carry with them at all times. They don’t typically display these badges but will present them along with additional credentials when asked to do so. Some agents will wear a traditional uniform which helps make them easily recognizable, but others wear regular business clothes. They may also wear special clothes while working undercover in order to better match their surroundings.
Here are some of the federal agencies that provide badges to their agents:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- National Security Agency (NSA)
- Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
- The Secret Service
- Transportation Security Agency (TSA)
- United States Marshal Service (USMS)
- Custom and Border Patrol (CBP)
- The Postal Inspection Service