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QUESTION:

How did a star become the symbol of a lawman?

M. J.

ANSWER:

That's an interesting question, M. J.!

Here's my take on it -- and I'm sure someone will quickly come along to dispute me.

Although law enforcement agencies are free to use any badge design they wish, there are two major styles of law enforcement badges: shields and stars.

Shields -- usually shaped like breastplate armor -- seem to be most generally used by municipal police departments, which historically did their patrolling on foot.

Sheriff Badge Star designs are most frequently used by sheriff departments. A sheriff (originally a "shire-reeve") patrolled a larger geographical area such as a "shire," or county, requiring the use of officers riding horses. In English heraldry, a star shape with five or more points is called a "mullet," derived from the French word "molette," meaning a spur rowel. (See "Rowel" in the Cowboy dictionary). Thus, the spur rowel design -- rather than a shield -- was more symbolic of law enforcement agencies that patrolled large areas, such as county sheriffs, state police, or the Texas Rangers.

Again, there's no hard-and-fast rule for this, and it's not uncommon to see things like a star design combined with a shield. The shield represents protection, while the star symbolizes mobility.

I hope this helps.

(Sheriff's badge photo is in the public domain.)

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