Badge & Gun: March 2009

HPD Planning Badge Replicas for Fallen Officers

Museum StoryHPD officials said the special Wall of Honor should be finished before the end of the year.

The display will run the length of a wall, with the badges in a lighted display case. It will be the cornerstone of a new museum and gift shop that will be open free to the public.

The entry of the area also will contain "an education area" containing a multi-media display telling each of the 109 stories.  

 Period Accuracy

"The Wall of Honor will be accessible to everyone," HPD Museum Director James Chapman said. "You will walk down the wall, see the badges and names, while hearing a background that will consist of the roll call, bagpipes and taps, giving our department and the public the opportunity to really understand and feel the loss of so many brave souls.

"The project has been developed and supported with the input and assistance of a number of very dedicated and sincere people from both inside and outside the department. This project, when completed, will be a touchstone for our community.

"Each of these brave officers is going to be represented by a badge as period accurate as we can make it."

That job in itself has been a challenge to Chapman and the resources of the Police Museum located at the Morrison Police Academy.

But the steadfast effort was truly enhanced by the work of Gary W. Rowe, an executive  of the Houston Badge Company, which ironically is not located in Houston but in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

When Chapman began searching for a craftsman who could replicate the historic badges from earlier times, he found Rowe, a former Odessa police officer, who helped with the research and will graciously manufacture the emblems at no cost to HPD.

"I was flabbergasted when Gary said that not only was his company able to reproduce the historic badges, but that he wanted to donate the badges they produced to the endeavor," Chapman said in saluting Rowe for his company's generosity."We want to be as accurate as possible in making a badge representing each officer killed in the line of duty," Rowe told the Badge & Gun. "We're very happy and honored to be part of the project to make a custom replica of each one of those badges. And we're happy to donate them.

"James already has the badges in the current style through Human Resources. What we're going to manufacture are those that need to be custom manufactured because they're no longer available."

It helps that Rowe has Houston roots. His grandfather was the owner of Imperial Laundry and Cleaners at the corner of Harrisburg and Sampson. Rowe moved with his family to West Texas when he was six years old.

"Throughout my youth I spent a lot of time in Houston and developed a real fondness for it because of the summers I spent here with my grandparents working in that laundry," Rowe recalled. "I have as many good friends here as I do at home."

Rowe and Chapman, a senior police officer, spent numerous hours researching badge numbers worn by the fallen officers as well as the style of many earlier versions. They felt the badges should be as close to the original designs as possible.

Badge Differences

"The manufactured badges of today are sometimes subtly and sometimes grossly different than the badges that have been worn by our officers in the almost 170-year history of our department," Chapman said.

For instance, craftsmen hand made badges until about 1915 when officers wore a manufactured "star badge." From research it appears the practice only lasted about five years and had disappeared entirely by the early 1920's. The department reverted back to the traditional shield design, which is still in use today.

Another aspect of the badge identification chore is the fact that over its history HPD has seen the line of duty deaths of a deputy chief, many detectives, two auxiliary officers, an airport police officer and a city marshal. "Each of these officers deserves our best efforts at producing their badges for the display," Chapman said.

They found five variations of the detective badge. Rowe said he might have one or two of the variations but sought to find the best representation of the badge worn at the time of death. Source: the HPD Museum archives.  

Before 1930, officers of every rank had individual badges crafted, most of them of a very similar design but with slight variations that are often barely identifiable to the naked eye.  

"If you saw five policemen (from the earlier era), they all would have badges made from the same template and same design," Chapman said. "But there are subtle differences done by different jewelers or craftsmen."

Rowe said, "These are hand made and not something stamped out by a factory. One craftsman could have been sitting one bench away from the next one and there would still be subtle differences in the design.

"If you saw the guys lined up wearing those badges, nobody but an artisan would be aware that they were different badges."

The "star badge" and the shield are HPD history's biggest badge differential. Rowe and Chapman put pictures under a magnifying glass to zero in on the minute differences. Using dates of photographs they reasoned that the star, or sun burst, was variously used between 1912 and 1924.

"It's funny but some people wore the starburst and some the traditional badge," Rowe said.

The two researched highly praised HPD line of death historian Nelson Zoch for his research into the badge numbers of each slain officer. The documentation of some of the earliest deaths, of course, failed to include a badge number.

In such cases, the badge on the display will be shaped like the one believed to be worn by the officer.

The earliest known badge number worn by an officer killed in the line of duty is the No. 5 that was carried by Herman Youngst, who died Dec. 11, 1901, the same day as Detective John C. James. Both were shotgunned by Sid Preacher.

James shot and killed Preacher before he expired himself.

‘Informal' Badge Retirements

Rowe and Chapman found the No. 5 in an archived picture. Zoch found evidence that Youngst wore No. 7 from a Houston City Directory issued the year of the officer's death.

The two researchers relied heavily on Zoch's research. They said he made it easy for them. They haven't unearthed a reason for the different references in numbers of the Youngst badge. It's simply part of the intrigue left over from those earlier years.

Chapman said, "The past gives up it's secrets grudgingly, if at all."

He and Rowe also had heartfelt praise for the Police Museum's first director, Officer Denny Hair, now retired. "None of this would have been possible without Dennyhaving collected and preserved examples of the historic badges," Chapman, Hair's successor, said. "The photos and badges that we examined wouldn't be here, except for him."

The HPD has had no official policy regarding the retirement of badge numbers worn by officers killed in the line of duty.

Yet, informally, only in a few cases has that happened, purely by circumstance. Currently the badge numbers of three fallen officers are still in circulation.

Sgt. Bruce Johnson in HPD Public Affairs said the department is working on a plan to retire the badge numbers of each of HPD's officers killed in the line of duty. He said the details have not been finalized but are expected to unfurl during Police Week in May.

Officer Bob Sampiere in HPD Human Resources said one of the badges is being worn by an officer in Phase Down C and two others by officers active in other divisions. Sampiere said it hasn't been determined if these shields are being worn by relatives of the deceased officers, which might remain a possibility

Confronted with the obvious question, Sampiere said, "If somebody's been wearing a badge for 15 years, it's unrealistic to pull it off his chest and say you can't wear it anymore."

Johnson said the details of the badge retirements haven't been finalized.

"We're still working on it," he said. "The chief wants it done at the memorial service. What we're trying to do is get all the known badge numbers of officers killed in the line of duty and officially retire them on May 8 (the date of the Police Memorial ceremonies).

"How we're going to do it, we're unsure yet. The badge number will never be issued again. The chief's office is working on. We (Public Affairs) are not involved in that part."

Johnson agreed with Sampiere that it seems the fairest way to handle the still active badge numbers of officers killed in the line of duty is to wait for the officers involved to either promote or retire.

Sgt. Steve Hanner of HPD General Services liaison office said the department is currently in the process of obtaining cost estimates for the 1200 museum display.

"The design documents are done," Hanner said. "Permits have been received. It's just a matter of final action on the cost estimate. Then we can begin construction.

"It should be done well before the end of the year."

The new section also will include a gift shop.