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Police patches: A town's character is often worn on an officer's sleeve

New Hampshire Sunday News

July 16. 2017 12:30AM

Greenland Police Chief Tara Laurent wears the department's current shoulder patch while standing in front of a photo of the previous patch. Members of the department redesigned the patch in tribute to Laurent's predecessor, Chief Michael Maloney, who was killed in the line of duty in 2012. (DAVID KURKUL)

After Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney was killed in the line of duty on April 12, 2012, his grieving department found a quiet way to honor him.

Tara Laurent, who became chief after Maloney's death, decided to retire the department patch he wore. And, she said, "I thought it only fitting to allow his 'work family' to design the new one."

Officers weighed in on the smallest details, from the shape of the patch to its thread colors, she said.

The new Greenland patch depicts the Weeks Brick House, believed to be one of the oldest brick structures in New Hampshire. Water and a sailboat symbolize the Seacoast; a rock and cattails represent Great Bay.

The image is encircled in red, representing "the eternal nature of our law enforcement family, even in death," Laurent said.

And there's one more tiny detail that might be easily overlooked: A single bird flying in the sky.

It's in homage, Laurent said, "to Chief Maloney looking over us."

Features of the Greenland Police Department patch: Weeks Brick House, one of the oldest in the state; water and sailboat representing the Seacoast; rocks and cattails representing Great Bay; single bird. Significance: Redesigned by department members after Chief Michael Maloney was killed in the line of duty in 2012. "There is one bird flying in the sky, an homage to Chief Maloney looking over us," says Chief Tara Laurent.

For police officers, the patches they wear on their uniforms are a symbol of civic pride, says Sandwich Police Chief Douglas F. Wyman Jr.

His father was a police officer in Concord and designed that department's current patch, which features the Concord Coach, he said.

Exeter's patch boasts of the town's status as the "Revolutionary War capital," Wyman noted. "You get those little tidbits of history off the patch, and that's the department showing their pride in their town," he said.

Wyman, a history buff, explained that police uniforms in the United States were "relatively unheard of" until 1854. That's when New York City's police department became the first in the U.S. to outfit its officers, followed by Boston and Chicago in 1858, he said.

"The uniforms of the day at that time were mostly leftover Army uniforms," he said. And that's how police officers came to be known as "cops" or "coppers," he said: "The copper buttons on early uniform jackets."

Sandwich Police Department's patch depicts the Sandwich Wilderness Range, which includes Mounts Chocorua, Paugus, Whiteface and others. It also shows Beede Falls, the Baptist Meeting House - "reportedly the most photographed church in New England," according to Wyman - and the Durgin Bridge, a link to the Underground Railroad from Sandwich and North Conway.

A few years back, Weare Police Department had a public perception problem. The department had been plagued with turmoil, including a controversial fatal shooting of an alleged drug dealer and a sex scandal involving the former chief.

The department needed a "rebranding," said Lt. Frank Hebert, and a new patch became the outward symbol of that. 

"We wanted to design a patch that was visually striking and unique, and would kind of draw people in to ask about it," said Hebert, who was a graphic designer before he became a police officer. "It was used not just as a patch but as a way to connect with the public."

The new patch, which debuted in 2015, featured images of water, representing the 1938 flood that had devastated the town, and a pine tree representing a Colonial-era rebellion.

"The king's men were coming out to take the trees for the masts," Hebert said. When they got to Weare, the people rebelled. "They stood their ground."

He came up with an image of an anvil, representing "the strength of the people of Weare."

But the patch, which also features the image of a rising sun, also symbolized a new era for the police department itself. "The anvil symbolizes a shaping stone," he said. "If we do our job right, it leads to a brighter future."

The patch had the desired effect, Hebert said. "People started asking about it - and they still do."

Hebert also came up with another patch for members of Weare's new Community Partner Engagement Team, an initiative to build bonds between police and the public they serve. The CPET patch features two clasped hands, a key and again the rising sun. "We all have to be watching out for one another if we're going to be successful in doing this," he said.

When former Springfield Police Chief Steve Bailey redesigned his department's patch, he modeled it after a coin minted for the town's bicentennial in 1969, according to the current chief, Timothy Julian. But the company that made the patches embroidered "1768" by mistake.

Undeterred, the chief's wife "put a few stitches in every patch to cover the 8, making it a 9," Julian said.

The patch also refers to the town's original name, Protectworth. There's some talk in town about changing the name back to Protectworth in time for the town's 250th, Julian said.

He's a fan of the idea. "I would prefer that, as there are 52 Springfields in the United States," he said.

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