Agents of the law vary, as do their duties and responsibilities. Many have powers that are limited in certain ways. To help the public identify one type of agent from another they usually wear uniforms that set them apart. Law enforcement badges are likely to be part of those uniforms. Even agents who do not have other readily identifiable clothing, such as detectives or FBI agents, should have badges.
Sometimes people need to know more than just what type of law enforcer they are dealing with. Sometimes people may want specific information about one officer. Law enforcement badges are normally designed to provide the public with extra information.
Usually, they are personalized with a unique set of number that identifies one officer from another. The officer’s name is likely to be revealed on a small nameplate. The government agency that issued the badge and the jurisdiction is often listed as well. For example, in the US, a New York police officer’s badge should display NYPD.
The design of law enforcement badges and the symbols on them vary from one agency to another or from one country or region to another. Fire marshals in New Jersey may have completely different badges than fire marshals in Pennsylvania. While many departments stick to common models, this is their choice. There are no rules stating that all badges must look any certain way.
Even within a department, the law enforcement badges can vary. The differences usually occur according to rank. A sheriff is likely to have a different badge than his deputies, for example.
Law enforcement badges are now standard for most agents of the law. This was not always the case. The history of badges begins at different points for different agencies, and in different countries. For many law enforcers, this history adds to the intrinsic value of the badges issued to them.
In the United States, federal law enforcement officers who are issued badges include forest rangers, FBI agents, border patrol, customs officers, and US Marshals. State law enforcers who carry badges include game wardens, sheriffs, fire marshals, and state troopers. Some people who are not agents of the law also own law enforcement badges.
Due in great part to accessibility made possible by the internet, badge collecting is a growing hobby. In 2000, a US federal law took effect regarding law enforcement badge collecting. This law makes the shipping, possession, and use of law enforcement badges or badge replicas a crime if they are used for any purpose other than as a memento, to be held in a collection, for decorative purposes, for a dramatic presentation, or for any other recreational purpose.