South Carolina resident Bob Fry began collecting police patches in 1985 when he received his first one. Now, he has exactly 5,669 patches from different law enforcement and fire agencies.
Fry, a former EMT and dispatcher who retired from the Aiken Department of Public Safety in 2018, started collecting patches from agencies across the country when he was 42.
Fry has a number of ways of getting patches, from going to departments and asking for them to trading with other collectors, or sometimes just getting lucky when they show up on his doorstep in an anonymous package.
“I’ve had patches show up in brown paper on envelopes at my front door. I don’t question how they got there,” he told the Charlotte Observer.
Fry also goes to shows to see others’ collections and trade with fellow hobbyists.
“There are shows all over the nation,” he said. “I’ve been to shows here in South Carolina [and] Georgia.”
Fry said that even his collection pales compared to those of some of his friends. Still, his collection often gets a surprised reaction.
“I’ve got friends with over 77,000 [patches]. But most people are surprised. I even get the wow factor from some of the smaller police departments that I’ve traded with,” he said.
Fry said that police departments are more hesitant to give out patches these days due to fear of officer impersonations.
“With the state the country’s in right now, it’s even worse,” Fry said. “There are certain departments that will say they do not honor patch requests because they have found their patches on eBay, which is a no-no. It’s a big issue. That’s why I don’t get into badges at all — because that’s the No. 1 way to impersonate an officer.”
Fry explained that the best part of his hobby is getting to socialize with others who share a similar interest.
“I enjoy meeting people and trading patches, war stories and whatever else,” he said.
Fry also makes sure to prioritize local agencies.
“I had all of the law enforcement [patches] in Aiken County and now I have all of the fire department patches. The last patch I needed was Wagener, which I got earlier this year,” Fry said.
Fry’s favorite patch is one he got from a friend.
“She brought me back a total of 38 patches from departments and one of the patches was a U.S. Marshals patch. When I saw that, I almost fell off the chair,” he said. “It’s a Badgerland Fugitive Apprehension Squad patch from Wisconsin — I’ve seen it online, but I have never seen it in anybody else’s collections. Those are the kind of patches I like to get because the feds tend to be a little bit tough about releasing patches.”
Most of Fry’s patches are in storage, but he keeps his favorites on display boards in his garage. He hopes to buy another house and convert it into a display area with patches covering all the walls.
“It would be nice to show people and refer to them when I need them,” he said.