I was walking through a Washington, D.C., hotel lobby dressed in my Class A uniform during Police Week 2002. I was on my way to the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the United States Capitol, where I had the solemn duty of escorting the wife of one of the 37 Port Authority police officers who were killed in the line of duty on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center.
Making my way through the lobby, I was stopped by a gathering of Los Angeles police officers who were interested in seeing a New York City-style police uniform. I was surprised by their enthusiasm but admit I was also interested in their crisp, form-fitting LAPD uniforms, so familiar to a nation of television and movie viewers.
While commenting on my uniform, they asked to see the safety pin. OK, not what you’re thinking. Unlike the majority of police badges, a New York City–style badge is not attached to the uniform by a hinged pin, but rather secured by what looks like the big safety pin mothers of the past used to secure a baby’s diaper.
The safety pin, to me, is the anchor to the determination and selfless dedication of the wearer.
So, in response, I unbuttoned my uniform blouse — yes, that’s what we call the Class A jacket — and opened the left side, exposing the safety pin. The back of the badge has two protuberances, with a hole in each for the pin to slide through after those protuberances are pushed through two slits in the upper left side of the blouse or uniform shirt.
The LAPD cops burst into “Wow, there it is, it’s really a safety pin,” along with laughs and diaper comments.
So, there I was, being of interest to and entertaining the iconic cops of Dragnet, Columbo, Adam-12 and Lethal Weapon fame, something I never expected. Cops sometimes fall victim to how their profession is portrayed on the big and small screens, thinking other departments are the real deal. In my current position as the public information officer for my union, I often have to break the news to reporters that the NYPD and LAPD are not the only police departments in the country. I remind them that even though those two take up a lot of air in the room, there are some 18,000 police departments in the United States, all similarly trained and doing the same job.
The encounter got me thinking about the safety pin. So, please excuse me for putting valuable, diminishing brainpower into thoughts of a safety pin, but I did reconcile that with what I believe became compelling outcomes of those thoughts.
The police badge is a public representation of the responsibilities and authority possessed by its wearer. To the public, it is believed to be the determining identification of the officer they may have interacted with. It is also a symbol of the solemn oath a police officer takes to protect life and property and to lawfully act within the scope of those duties — an inanimate object that often provides comfort to those in need and inspires contempt in non-law-abiding actors.
A symbol, such as a badge, does not define a person, but for the public, the badge is defining. There is a saying, “Everyone loves a firefighter.” You never hear that of a police officer. The public’s perception of a cop is completely different than how a cop sees themselves. So, the badge is connected to the person, and in the New York City area that connection is the safety pin.
Sometimes the smallest thing plays the biggest part. The safety pin, to me, is the anchor to the determination and selfless dedication of the wearer. I was on the job for 27 years, and from day one until the day I turned in my badge, the safety pin was my badge’s constant companion. During those years, that badge has been torn from my uniform, pummeled and spit on; endured a few crashes; met the pavement in more street encounters than I can remember; and survived September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. And yet, the safety pin never abandoned my badge, meaning it never abandoned me.
The husband of the wife I escorted during the 2002 National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service never hesitated on September 11. It has been reported that he led hundreds to safety from the subway station below the massive complex, then entered the Towers and rescued many more before perishing in the collapse of those Towers. His body was never recovered. What was found, and is now a beloved and cherished reminder of a family’s husband and father, was his badge, still attached to its safety pin.