Some police departments may
use these insignias for special
recognition such as Master
Police Officer; Police Officer
First Class; Trooper First
Class, etc. These ranks may,
or may not, carry any
additional authority or higher
pay grade within the structure.
The rank of corporal is not
universal throughout police
departments. However, the
rank does carry supervisory
authority. The corporal will
normally act as the squad or
unit supervisor when the
sergeant is on leave or
The three stripe sergeant
insignia is the most common
sergeant rank among police
departments. The sergeant is
normally the first line of
You probably won't see these
sergeant insignias that
When you do see them, they
simply indicate ascending rank
by the number of chevrons on
the bottom of the insignia.
Some state police agencies,
which are more military
oriented, may utilize these
multiple sergeant ranks.
The lieutenant rank is
universal among police
departments. The majority of
departments have only one
lieutenant insignia. Whether
the bar is gold or silver is
simply a matter of choice.
Again, a few departments may
use both to distinguish rank
with the silver being the higher
The captain rank is usually the
highest rank earned through a
competitive civil service
process. The captain is usually
the first line of command.
However, in some
departments, the captain may
be referred to by another title
such as "inspector."
The rank of major and above
are all command ranks, and
they are usually appointed by
the police chief to serve at his
or her pleasure. Police
officers who achieve these
ranks usually have
considerable political support
from outside the police
The colonel insignia is
popular. You'll often see
police chiefs wearing this
insignia. In larger
departments where people are
designated as chiefs of various
functions, you'll see more of
There's no standard here. If you see a chief
of police with one star, you won't see any
other star insignias in that department. If
the chief wears four stars, you may see one
to three stars on the collars of some of that
department's other top commanders.
In a small department, the chief can wear
any insignia he or she wants. In larger
police departments where tradition is more
entrenched, or where changing insignias
would simply cause too much confusion, the
chief may not have as much latitude.
The next time you're watching the news
where there's a press conference involving
multiple police jurisdictions, check the
insignias of the police chiefs. You'll notice
that if there's three chiefs, there may well be
three different insignias.
I've only seen the five star insignia once, but
I'm sure it's worn by more than a few police
chiefs. It's almost always a matter of choice.
|Check out the military rank
insignias across all the
United States Armed Forces.
I've linked you to pages at the Department
of Defense where you can view all the
officer and enlisted insignias used by the
Army; Navy, Coast Guard; Marines, and
|Identifying Police Rank Insignias
The best way for you to identify rank
insignias used by police departments is to
familiarize yourself with the enlisted and
officer insignias of the United States Army.
Nearly all police departments use the same
Here's a very informative article by Jim
Garamone, American Forces Press Service.
The writer describes, in historical
perspective, the evolution of rank insignias
from the beginning of the Republic to the
|The Relationship Between Police and
Military Rank Insignias
When you see a soldier with no insignia of
rank on his or her uniform, it tells you that
soldier has no authority over anyone . It's
not that way with a police officer.
Every sworn police officer is vested with full
authority under the law. Just because you
see no insignia of rank, that observation
should not make you believe his or her
authority is diminished in any way. The
lowest ranking police officer has exactly the
same authority under the law as does the
highest ranking sworn member of that police
As in the military, the police department
rank structure is designed for supervisory;
management, and command functions. In
the military, the rank of corporal through the
ascending sergeant ranks are supervisory
functions. Second and first lieutenants and
captains are company grade ranks, and they
can be compared to management. Major
through the colonel ranks are field grade
officers, and they can be compared to
"Just because you see no insignia of
rank, that observation should not make
you believe his or her authority is
diminished in any way."
~ Barry M. Baker
|Copyright © 2015 Barry M. Baker
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