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Calif. police department goes retro with old-school patches

The 1800-1900s era style is symbolic for the department going 'back to basics' with a new chief

By Erin Tracy
The Modesto Bee

MODESTO, Calif. — Modesto police have gone back to their roots, with new badges similar to those worn by the city's first law enforcement officers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

On Thursday, silver, seven-pointed stars replaced gold-colored, eagle-topped shields, and patches were added with silver rather than yellow stitching.

The idea for the change came in mid-2012 from Modesto police Officer Jonathan Griffith, who since has moved to a different agency, said Modesto Police Officer Association President Tony Arguellas.

Around that time were several incidents in which officers were fired, disciplined or even arrested. Griffith felt the department's reputation had been tarnished, and he and Arguellas agreed that a rebranding could help the department distance itself from those events.

"The idea was to bring us back from some mishaps we had in the past with officers going astray from what a police officer is supposed to do, maintaining the order of the city. We thought, "Let's go back to our roots,' " Arguellas said. "We had a new chief with a new perspective on how police work should be done, that was an opportunity. The star is just a representation of that fresh outlook and getting back to basics."

Three months after Police Chief Galen Carroll was sworn in, in January 2013, Arguellas approached him with the idea. "After I got done laughingbecause as new chief, you don't want to come in and change their uniforms, which are part of their culture and their heritageI told him if that's what people wanted, I'd consider it," Carroll said.

He said 140 employees voted, and 107 were in favor of a change.

"This has been in the works for over a year," Carroll said. "We were all set and rolling along and then Measure X came up and failed. We were talking about putting this aside because we knew what the public perception could beyou have budget cuts and you are asking for more fundingbut Measure X does not define this department. The idea was to ingrain in the culture that we know we are lean, we know we are small, but we are going to keep moving forward."

The 1 percent sales tax initiative that failed in the November election would have generated enough funding to hire an additional 61 police officers, its supporters said, and prevent further cuts from the department's staffing, which has decreased by nearly a quarter since 2008.

Measure X funding would have bolstered the city's general fund. The new badges and patches, totaling a little more than $24,000, were paid for by Supplemental Law Enforcement Funding, an annual grant that can be used for equipment and overtime. The badges and patches are for all sworn officers, as well some nonsworn personnel such as community service officers and animal control officers.

Carroll expects to recoup all or nearly all of the cost of the badges by following a model the Hanford Police Department used when it changed badges in 2011.

The new, German-made badges cost $73, but officers can choose to upgrade their badges to sterling silver for $103 and have their name and hire date engraved on the back for $109. An officer pays out of pocket for anything more than $73.

Officers also have the option to purchase their old badges as keepsakes for $70. Carroll said most officers are paying for the upgrades and the keepsake badges. Many are buying more than one of the old badges to mark each rank or special unit in which they served. The old badges also will be offered to retired officers.

Officers will use some of their $94 monthly uniform allowance to have the patches sewn onto their uniforms, remove a light blue stripe down the side of their pants and purchase new silver belt buckles and name plates.

Modesto's first city marshal was sworn in in 1884, when the city's population was 2,500, according to a news release from the department. The marshal and subsequent officers wore six-pointed stars until the department transitioned to shields in the 1920s.

Arguellas said a uniform committee, made up of sworn and nonsworn officers, opted for more modern seven-pointed stars rather than ones with six points.

Graphics of the new badges will be added to the Police Department's fleet as new cars are phased in. Ford's Crown Victoria, long associated with patrol cars, was discontinued in 2012. Many police departments, including Modesto's, bought a surplus of the last model, but the city has only about half a dozen new Crown Victorias remaining.

Carroll said the department is test-driving Chevrolet Tahoes and Caprices and Ford Explorers.

Copyright 2014 The Modesto Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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