Inside info on police badge collecting

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Tricky times for collectors of Toronto area police badges
By Roy Bassett
In the spring of 1957, several large sacks filled with thousands of obsolete police badges were tossed into Lake Ontario about a mile off shore.
The City of Toronto and 12 surrounding towns, villages and townships had been amalgamated and a deputy chief of the new Metropolitan Toronto Police Force ordered 5,000 police officers to surrender outdated hat badges, helmet badges and wallet identification badges.
I mention this event because the almost complete cleansing of outdated badges from the 13 police jurisdictions created an immediate obstacle for future collectors in search of the perfect pre-1957 badge collection.
And I say almost because I'm sure not all of the 5,000 officers abided by the order, so it might still be possible to complete a set of 13 badges from the old Toronto, York, Etobicoke, North York, East York, Scarborough, Weston, Mimico, New Toronto, Leaside, Forest Hill, Swansea and Long Branch police departments.
While I have never viewed a complete collection of badges from those jurisdictions, I did hear of a person who has the collection.
Novice collectors need to know about the purge should they decide to focus their hunt on Toronto and area badges.
It was the first time Toronto police badges were changed in name since the permanent Toronto force was established in 1835, but it wouldn't be the last.
Anyone deciding to collect Metro Toronto Police badges and patches issued in 1957 should know they were only in use until 1997, when Metro became the City of Toronto and the police force became Toronto Police. New name, new ID.
That first force in 1835 consisted of a High Constable, five full-time constables and a reserve of 14 special constables. Two years later, they all got plain uniforms.
While there were departmental name changes during the next century - High Constable became Chief Constable in 1858 and Chief Constable became Chief of Police in 1957 - it is unlikely Toronto police badges changed much from the 1800s to 1957.
So the true challenges for collectors who enjoy the hunt are the 13 badges from the pre-Metro jurisdictions and the Metro badges and patches in use from 1957 through 1997.
Barring Lake Ontario diving expeditions, there is no doubt in my mind that collecting an example of each of the 13 pre-1957 badges will take considerable time and patience. But what an accomplishment that would be, more than 50 years later.
But if you are still debating where to start your personal police identification collection, first choose badges or patches. Patches are insignias sewn on the upper sleeve of the shirt or jacket of a police uniform that identify the police department.
In 1957, only uniform Toronto police officers wore the police patch. However, over the years other members of the service wore patches indicating their specific duties, such as parking control officers, cadets, station duty, matron etc.
Collecting patches is quite popular because of their availability. They are colourful and make great displays. Most are reasonably priced, although older and out of the way patches can be expensive, including those worn by First Nations Police.
Police badges are usually worn on the hat, kept in a wallet and in some instances, on the left breast. You will find that in most police departments, officers are issued a badge to be kept in a wallet and used for identification.
Most U.S police officers have breast badges, also some in Quebec, but Metro Toronto Police did not. Metro officers carried a wallet badge, similar to their hat badge, and a warrant card with their name and rank on it.
If asked, uniform police officers must show these two items. Officers in plain clothes must show them without being asked. Members of the public should be aware of what these genuine items look like.
Patches, or badges, there is no need to restrict your collection to one city when there are police forces around the world. Pick a country and then narrow your choice to province or state.
For instance, should you choose Ontario as your collecting area, obtain a list of all police departments in the province.
You could start by writing to each department requesting a patch as worn by their officers. It is likely you will receive many replies.
You will soon learn that, like Toronto, many companies/departments have changed their patches over the years and some of the older ones will be more difficult to obtain.
But the challenge will increase your determination to obtain all patches from a certain department and it will enhance the pleasure when you find each elusive item.
Unfortunately, you will not be so successful should you ask for badges. They will have to be purchased from other collectors or dealers.
As far as I know, it is not an offence to possess a police badge. The offence of personate a police officer is only when it is used fraudulently.
Should you accept the Toronto police badge and patch challenge, you might start your quest by visiting the police museum at Toronto Police headquarters on College Street, where several badges and patches are on display.
You could also go a different route and collect patches worn by firefighters, security officers, casino security officers, oil companies and the list goes on.
If you have any questions about collecting police memorabilia, send me an e-mail at
Roy Bassett is a veteran of the British army (1950s) and a retired Toronto policeman. He can be reached at
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