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.
|Police Officer Rank Insignias
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 otherwise unavailable.
The three stripe sergeant insignia is the most common sergeant rank among police
departments. The sergeant is normally the first line of supervision.
You probably won't see these sergeant insignias that frequently.
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 rank.
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 department.
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 these.
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 Air Force.
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|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 insignias.
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 present.
Private First Class
Sergeant First Class
|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 within that military organization. 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 department.
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 command.