LAPD Badges: To Collect and Preserve


In "The Centurions' Shield," Cypress author-publisher Raymond Sherrard offers a history of what is undoubtedly the world's most recognizable police badge: The silver-and-gold oval shield of the Los Angeles Police Department, the badge made famous by Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in the classic TV drama "Dragnet."

Webb's badge, No. 714, an authentic shield given to him in the 1950s by Chief William H. Parker, is one of hundreds featured in the heavily illustrated, 320-page book subtitled "A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, Its Badges and Insignia."

Since its publication last fall, Sherrard has sold about half of the 5,200-copy first printing ($49.95 in hardback; $29.95 in softcover; and $129.95 for a leather-bound copy). Sherrard, who primarily sells the book via mail order, advertises in the monthly Police Collector News--the bible of police insignia collectors--and the Thin Blue Line, the Los Angeles Police Protective League's internal newspaper.

Not surprisingly, half of the book's buyers have been current or former LAPD officers. In fact, Sherrard said, the gift shop at the police academy "buys them by the caseload."

However, "The Centurions' Shield" is about to reach a potentially larger audience.

A national book distributor has picked up the book, and it will be available through Barnes & Noble bookstores throughout the West beginning this month. Sherrard said the distributor also plans to send review copies to Borders, Crown and B. Dalton bookstores.

"For a small press like I am, you almost never get a shot at the big book chains," said Sherrard, 53.

Sherrard, who wore the badge of a Treasury Department special agent before retiring in 1994, co-wrote "The Centurions' Shield" with former LAPD Commander Keith Bushey, and Bushey's son, LAPD Officer Jacob Bushey.

Sherrard, whose previous three self-published books dealt with federal insignia, "Badges of the United States Marshals" and two volumes of "Federal Law Enforcement Badges," has known the elder Bushey for many years.

"Keith had been the archivist, the original [unofficial] historian, of the LAPD back in the '60s," said Sherrard. "The LAPD tended to throw out the historical stuff and he and another captain rescued old records and photographs. Keith is one of the original old-time badge collectors. I said, 'It's a shame. You've got these hundreds and hundreds of old badges. . . . Let's do a book.' "

The first LAPD badges--a silver flower-shaped design--were issued in 1869, and only four are known to still exist. "Those are worth about $10,000 apiece, but nobody is willing to sell them," said Sherrard. Three of the original badges are in private hands, he said, including his own. The fourth is on display at the El Monte Police Department.

Sherrard said that many of his book orders have come from Japanese insignia collectors.

"They have traditionally just loved LAPD items," said Sherrard, who attributes the Japanese fascination to years of TV and movie depictions of the department. He said the manager of the police academy gift shop told him that busloads of Japanese tourists regularly tour the facility, then stop at the gift shop "and literally buy out what they can get."

There is a high demand among collectors for the current LAPD badge--the so-called "series six" badge which has been in use since 1940.

The badges cost the city about $30 apiece and while collectors have been known to offer thousands of dollars for one, they're not for sale to the public.

"It's like the Holy Grail of collectors to get a current badge," said Sherrard, "but the only way you can get one is to go through the [police] academy."

(Webb, whose portrayal of the LAPD made him a good friend of the department, was a rare exception to the rule.)

Sherrard, who interviewed former Police Chief Daryl Gates for the book, said that Gates told him that during his tenure he received hundreds of letters from other police chiefs across the country requesting LAPD badges for their badge displays.

But following departmental policy, Gates turned them all down.


Things were different in the '20s and '30s when 7,000 "series five" badges, a gold teardrop-style shield used from 1923 to 1940, were routinely presented to ordinary and not-so-ordinary citizens.

Clark Gable, Bela Lugosi, Tom Mix and MGM head Louis B. Mayer are among the Hollywood celebrities who received LAPD badges.

Sherrard said that every Wednesday during the 1930s, "the old chief, James Davis, had Shield Day at the Academy. Businessmen would come up and he'd present them with a detective lieutenant's badge and they'd give a 'contribution.' "

The "real cops," he said, weren't happy with the practice: It wasn't uncommon for a driver pulled over for a traffic violation to flash an LAPD badge at the officer in an attempt to get off the hook.

So many badges were handed out to ordinary citizens, Sherrard said, "It got to be a joke."

The result was in 1940 when the new "series six" badge--the familiar large oval with the gold depiction of City Hall--was created, a new departmental policy went into effect: Only sworn LAPD officers could possess the badge.

Sherrard said that no other police department had a badge that looked like the LAPD's. "For 28 years, it was copyrighted."

But in the late '60s, he said, "They forgot to renew the copyright and the Beverly Hills Police Department went in immediately and went to the oval badge."

Now, just about every city in Los Angeles and Orange counties uses an LAPD-style oval. Said Sherrard: "It's a very attractive design."

* Information on ordering "The Centurions' Shield": (714) 892-9012.

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