KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You’ve seen them all around KC sporting the French blue uniform, black gun belt and a clean-cut look. The Kansas City, Missouri police officers always stands out in a crowd–but did you know that there is a cloud of mystery that surrounds the badge they wear?
There is not another badge like it in the world. With an Eagle on top, wings spread wide as though to be protecting the community it proudly flies over, the shape has been easily distinguished among all others since it was created and copyrighted in 1939.
During the decades since it was introduced, it’s become a symbol that stands for professionalism, honor and integrity.
“The badge we wear is a symbol of what our job is all about,” said Sgt. Dustin Scherer, East Patrol Field Sergeant and Treasurer for the KCPD historical society. “The fact that it is unique is another thing that sets us apart from other departments across the United States.”
It’s based on the Roman shield, a shield placed upon the chest of an officer to protect them daily and show their commitment to protecting their community.
But the mystery that surrounds it has baffled the police department for nearly 80 years –who designed it?
Where the mystery begins
The story begins in 1923 when “Boss Tom” Pendergast ran the city with an iron fist. He also had a strong influence over the police department and caused a lot of officers to become corrupt.
Then in 1939 the state attorney general decided it was time to clean up Kansas City. That’s when they ordered the department to be put under state control and the first board of police commissioners was appointed.
At that time almost 50 percent of the department’s members were fired and a new badge was designed.
As Boss Tom’s “officers” were leaving they also took with them many of the department’s documents and what would now be considered important historical items.
Everything was destroyed
To the best of anyone’s knowledge everything was destroyed. Some things were thrown into the murky Missouri River, other items and documents burned.
It’s believed that along with those destroyed documents, Boss Tom’s “officers” took the original sketches and information about the badge that officers wear today.
“Essentially, everything before 1939 is lost. We need our community’s input to help us find our past. To help find where our identity came from,” said Capt. Christopher Sicoli, KCPD Assist. Division Commander and President of the KCPD historical society.
KCPD is now asking for the community’s help.
“We would love to get the community involved, especially if they know anything about our badge,” Capt. Sicoli added. “Our department dates back to 1874, but we have very little documentation about our department’s history between 1874 and 1939.”
Badges handed out at random
On top of the mystery behind who created the badge, KCPD Sgt. Jake Becchina told FOX4 that there’s never really been a system for handing out badges to officers.
“The (badge) numbering is random,” Becchina said. “Whatever numbers come out of storage are assigned at random to the new officers.”
Becchina said there are exceptions when a family member hands down a badge.
“When an officer has a special connection to a badge worn by someone else prior, like a family member, if available those badges can be specially assigned to an officer with approval,” Becchina added.
Det. Tim Perry of the missing persons/cold case homicide unit knew he wanted to be an officer when he was five years old. His father, Ret. Sgt. Jon Perry, was on the department from 1968 until 1995.
Unfortunately, when Det. Perry graduated from the police academy, his father’s was still in circulation. So instead of getting his father’s former badge, he received a random one out of storage.
Eventually, Det. Perry was able to track down the officer wearing the special badge.
“It took about two months to figure out how to even find it,” Det. Perry said. “Then once I figured that out, all it took was an email.”
The officer who had the badge was actually a fellow detective.
“Once we talked, he dropped it off at headquarters,” Det. Perry said. ” I then went to headquarters, turned in the badge that was issued to me and picked up my dad’s.”
To date, KCPD has about 30 families who work for the department in different capacities. Some officers, some civilians, but they are all part of the family of “blue”.
The stories behind the badge
“Despite its lost history, many officers still form a sentimental tie to the individual badge,” Sgt. Dustin Scherer said. “Although the tie might not be as strong to the design, ask anyone who has been promoted past the rank of officer, and they can tell you the old badge number they were issued.”
Sgt. Scherer said he can even recall his old badge number.
“My old officer badge number, 1254, is currently being worn by an officer who took the streets less than a year ago…..he happens to work at the same station as me, so I was able to share the history of “my badge” with him,” Sgt. Scherer added. “To me it’s a special piece of the uniform, that has seen the making of Kansas City History over the decades officers have pinned it on.”
Despite the mystery, officers are proud to wear the badge
Although questions loom about who actually designed the badge officers wear, none of this really affects a KCPD officer’s willingness to support and keep their community safe, but it does take a little bit away from their identity.
To most police departments around the U.S. the badge is their identify, including the New York Police Department.
“To the NYPD we have more of generational attachments to our shield due to the number of family’s that serve with us….our department has over 37,000 sworn members so each one of them will have their own special attachment to their shield,” NYPD spokesperson Lt. John Grimpel said.
You can help crack the case open
Lost in the sands of time, or rather possibly buried in the depths of the mighty Missouri River lies secrets that we may never discover.
If you have information that could help FOX4 and the Kansas City Police Department crack this “case,” please contact the Kansas City Police Historical Society at (816) 889-6095 or send them a message via Facebook.