But that’s all about to change. Soon, the Anniston Police Department will line those walls with tributes to the history of law enforcement and its agencies across Alabama — uniform patches, hundreds of them.
Friday morning, newly retired Anniston police officer Travis Bentley pulled up behind the new home of the APD and unloaded more than 1,700 patches to liven up the bare hallway walls. He and other officers unloaded about three dozen cork board displays and boxes of loose patches that will be hung next week.
Bentley’s collection focuses on Alabama law enforcement agencies.
“You’ve got to specialize,” he said. “You can’t collect them all.”
The patches vary in shape, size and color and come from agencies at all levels of government. Bentley’s collection even includes patches from educational institutions such as the Auburn University Police Department and agencies that no longer exist, such as the Hobson City Police Department. Bentley said he has the second-largest known patch collection in the state.
Bentley is such an avid collector that along with Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge, he organized an annual memorabilia show at the Oxford Civic Center that drew collectors from around the country.
Partridge, who primarily collects police badges, said it’s important to preserve the history of law enforcement.
“I just like the history of the badges themselves,” he said. “You can see how they’ve evolved from the 1800s.” He has Oxford badges dating back to the 1940s, but the holy grail in his quest is the badge of an Oxford city marshal, what lawmen were called when Oxford was first incorporated.
Partridge said he is currently working on a display of old Oxford memorabilia that he plans to donate to his department for display.
Mike Bondarenko, police chief for the city of Prescott, Wisc., and publisher of Police Collectors News, a bimonthly trade publication with 3,000 subscribers around the world, said many collectors are law enforcement officials interested in collecting and preserving their own department’s insignia.
“There’s a lot of esprit de corps in police departments,” he said. The patches, he said, become a symbol of a department, and officers develop pride for their departments and insignia.
New patches in use by agencies, he said, generally cost between $2 and $5. For rarer patches more in demand, the prices can be much steeper. He said patches from early California agencies can go for between $1,200 and $1,800 apiece.
One of the aspects about the hobby that Bondarenko said he finds interesting is that collectors who see designs from other departments often realize how their departments stack up and convince their chiefs or departments to improve the looks of their insignia.
“When I became police chief here in 2006,” he said, “I didn’t like the emblem we were wearing, and we changed it to a prettier design.”
Bondarenko said when his department orders patches, he orders a set as well and uses them as a calling card of sorts — ice breakers that make for good networking opportunities at trainings and conferences.
This idea of trading and networking was what Denham had in mind when he proposed a patch wall initially. He envisioned displaying the department’s patches and then adding new ones as people visited the department.
“We’d just see what we gather; it’d take a few years,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to turn into this.”
Bentley, whose empty desk is now piled high with his collection waiting to be hung, is glad to have the fruits of his labor on display in the shiny new building.
“They will probably stay here forever,” he said. “They need to be in a place where they can be seen.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.