They won’t be wearing the derby hats and high-collared coats that were stylish 100 years ago, but many San Diego police officers this year will commemorate the department’s centennial by swapping their badges for a six-point star, beginning this week.
Police Chief Bob Burgreen is expected to receive his star Thursday, and other officers--600 have ordered the $45 to $64 badges so far--will begin wearing theirs afterward. Sgt. Willie P. Smith, who conceived the idea and designed the commemorative badges, estimates that 1,200 of the Police Department’s 1,735 employees will purchase and wear the stars this year.
Symbolic of a day when San Diego police officers relied mostly on raw courage and the guns in their holsters to bring criminals to justice, the new badges will be worn at the outset of the department’s pledge to win back the streets from gangs.
“The stars are a way of dropping back a little bit and putting the past and present together,” Smith said. “The only problem the badge will see today that it didn’t see (100 years ago) is that we are somewhat restrained as to what we can do. Officers have to be a lot more up on the law these days. I think about all you had to be back then was quick.”
Officers can wear the six-point stars, which were approved by the City Council as substitutes for the official shields, until Jan. 1. The Police Department will be 100 years old May 16.
The gold-plated star, which is expected to bolster pride in the department, is not an exact replica of the badges worn in the early days. The new star, at 3 inches across, is slightly larger than the original and includes a blue ribbon across the top that indicates the officer’s rank.
“The badges have already been very positive in terms of boosting morale,” Smith said. “The officers of this department, if they look back over the last 100 years, will see that they do have a lot to be proud of from day one.”
The Police Department was established May 16, 1889, and located in City Hall, then at G Street and 5th Avenue. Before that, the military and city marshals enforced the law in San Diego.
The city’s first police chief, Joseph Coyne, was appointed June 1, 1889. He was paid $125 a month, while policemen earned $100 a month and worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, according to records provided by the department.