Tag Archive for: sergeant

How do officers know, at a glance, when they’re addressing a ranking officer from another department? Well, the answer is as clear as everything else pertaining to law enforcement…it depends.

Police departments use many symbols of rank designation. Some department supervisors wear white shirts (some departments issue white shirts to all officers), while others issue gold badges to their higher-ranking officers. But the easiest way to tell an officer’s rank is to look at their collar insignia. Each pin is a representation of the officer’s rank.

Collar insignias, beginning with the top ranking officer (chief)

An eagle (birds) on each collar—Colonel, or Chief (some chiefs prefer to be addressed as Colonel).

Sheriffs and chiefs may also wear a series of stars to indicate their rank.

Oak leaf on each collar – Major

Two bars on each collar – Captain (the two bars are often called “railroad tracks”)

One bar on each collar – Lieutenant

Three stripes – Sergeant

Sometimes, a supervisor’s rank is indicated on their badge.

Two stripes – Corporal

Chevron, or single stripe – Private, or line officer

* An officer without a collar insignia is normally a line officer.

Hash Marks and Stars

Hash Marks on the sleeve indicate length of service. For example, each hash mark normally represents five years on the job. In the case of the chief of police above who has served his department for many years, each star in the circle above the hash marks represents five years of service, plus the four hash marks = a total of 29 years on the job.

Other pins and medals worn by officers may include (from top to bottom):

  • Name tag
  • Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.
  • Pistol expert (to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).
  • FTO pin worn by field training officers.
  • K9 pin worn by K9 officers

*Remember, ribbons and pins may vary in individual departments and agencies.

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys, and (if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest) can result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.


The investigation of criminal cases is often a time-consuming process that involves numerous hours of leg work, interviewing potential witnesses and/or suspects, evidence collection and, well, you know the drill. It’s intensive. However, there are also the cases that practically solve themselves with little or no investigative skills needed.

For example …

It was a dark and non-stormy, but bitterly cold night.

I was on call and, as my luck goes, my pager sounded off, beeping and buzzing on the nightstand next to my head. Hoping it was an informant I could ignore until morning, I reached for the device and saw the number for dispatch on the tiny screen.

My next wish was for it to be something I could handle by phone. After dialing the number, a perky female voice answered and told me that I was needed at a structure fire, one that a patrol sergeant had reason to believe was arson. Great. Just great, I thought. Not only was it 3 a.m. and as cold outside as a well digger’s hind parts, but the freakin’ case was an arson, and I absolutely despised working arson cases. They’re dirty and stinky and I despised getting dirty and stinky, especially at 3 a.m. when the outside temperature is hovering at one notch below “Brrr and Shiver.” Give me a good old murder to solve, any day. At least there was a good chance the body would’ve been indoors.

I rolled out of bed, apprehensively, and slipped on some clothes I wouldn’t mind tossing in the garbage a few hours later, and headed outside where the frigid air slapped my cheeks and launched an instant assault on my eyes nose, ears, and lungs. Even my unmarked Crown Vic seemed pissed off and protested by withholding heat for at least ten very long minutes.

I arrived at the scene, an agricultural-based business, where fire crews were still hard at it, spraying water at yellowish-orange flames that reached heights well above nearby trees and telephone poles. As horrific as all fires are, the heat from this one was not at all offensive. My toes were cold, cold, cold.

The patrol sergeant who’d requested my assistance waved me over to where he was engaged in an arm and hand-waving, finger-pointing conversation with the fire chief and a couple of shivering bystanders.

The Evidence

On my way, I saw something on the ground that reflected the brilliant colors of the dancing flames. You’d never guess, in a million years, what it was, so I’ll tell you (yes, crooks are often as dumb as a rock).

The reflective object was a driver’s license. So I picked it up, told the sergeant and fire chief that I was pretty sure I knew who’d started the fire and that I’d give them a call in a little while. I turned around and walked back to my car. I’d been at the fire scene all of two minutes.

It wasn’t that I was some sort of super-detective, or anything close. Not at all. You see, the drivers license I’d found belonged to a man who’d served time in prison for setting a couple of previous fires. I drove to the man’s house where I promptly told him I had solid evidence that placed him at the scene. Then I bluntly asked if he’d set the fire.

He first patted his pants pockets as if feeling for something that “should’ve” been there (a driver’s license), and then slowly looked down at his muddy shoes and nodded his head (a classic sign that a confession is about to spill from the lips).

I told him he’d need to do better than that. He looked up until his gaze met mine, and said, “Yeah, it was me. I set it.”

On the way to book the arsonist I called the patrol sergeant to tell him that I had the firebug in custody. It was not quite two hours after I’d received the page from the dispatcher. All without getting dirty, or stinky.

By the way, my car still refused to put forth any heat on the ride home. My toes were still cold.