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Inaugural Token A Badge of Honor For Police Forces

Shields Shows Officers' Special Duty

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page B05

When D.C. police Sgt. Buddy Smallwood takes his place with his fellow officers providing security at the presidential inauguration today, he will be wearing spit-shined shoes and a crisply pressed and starched uniform. Not a thread will be out of place.

Smallwood also plans to display his pride over his heart -- a special gold-colored inaugural badge offered to D.C. police officers every four years. The badges have come to symbolize the unique role police play in the nation's capital, where so many events and protests are high-security, international affairs.


Sgt. Buddy Smallwood, left, and Sgt. Joe Gentile of D.C. police reminisce about previous inaugurations as they prepare for President Bush's second inauguration today. They collect inaugural badges. (Photos Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

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"We are one of the select departments to do this work," said Smallwood, a patrol sergeant in the 7th District who joined the force in 1964 and is the department's longest-serving sworn member. This will be his 11th inauguration.

"The badges help you remember," he added. "After a while, the inaugurals all run together."

D.C. police and other local agencies began offering inaugural badges to their officers on a widespread basis in 1981, for the swearing-in of Ronald Reagan as the nation's 40th president. Some officers show tremendous pride in the badges, which often have colorful and intricate designs.

Officers, who purchase the badges, generally are allowed to wear them in place of their traditional shields for about a month. Most use them only during the inauguration and quickly pack them away for safekeeping.

Upon retirement, many put the badges in shadow boxes or mount them to their walls as mementos of their service. A few wind up for sale on Internet auction sites; one badge, for example, was being offered at $1,000 on eBay.

As a sign of the importance placed on the keepsakes, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey helped design this year's badge.

Produced by V.H. Blackinton and Co. of Massachusetts, the badge is gold and displays the U.S. and District flags. A depiction of the U.S. Capitol is surrounded by the words "Inauguration of the President of the United States," and "Metropolitan Police" is emblazoned on the bottom.

"I hope the guys like it," said Ramsey, who is marking his second inauguration as head of the department. "I didn't want the same thing we did in 2001. Each inauguration is unique, and you want each badge to be a little different."

D.C. police purchased about 3,000 badges, which are being sold for $50 apiece. Department employees are permitted to buy up to five badges, and proceeds go to Crime Solvers, a program that rewards people who give valuable tips to police.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman, administers the distribution of the badges, and he has a small collection of his own. He plans to rotate several badges on his chest today -- as he has done in the past -- and give the different shields to his brothers.

"That makes the badges a little more special," said Gentile, who joined the force in 1967.

Although Ramsey designed the D.C. police badge, U.S. Capitol Police set up a committee that considered six designs. The panel chose an oval badge that displays an eagle and the Capitol. It is for sale for $55.


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