Recently a friend retired like me, had the pleasure and honor to pin the star on his son at his police academy graduation. It was the same star my friend wore during his career as a highly honored police officer. He posted the photo on Facebook. You could tell from his comment and the photo his pride. You could see how much it meant to him to pass his star on to his son.
Here in Chicago, our stars have a number on them. Each officer has a different star number. Usually the lower the number the higher the rank. Each time you are promoted you get a new star and star number. I was fortunate to wear three stars during my thirty years. As a new police, officer I wore 4065. When I got promoted to Sergeant I wore 1993 and as a Lieutenant, I wore 381. My father wore 381 during his ten years as a lieutenant. He had passed away by the time I was promoted so he wasn’t able to pin it on me. Somehow, I know he was there for the ceremony.
My father-in-law wore 1993 while he was a sergeant. When I saw him after my swearing in he couldn’t wait to see his old star. I handed it to him and he beamed with pride. As he handed it back he said, “Don’t get it dinged up.” He meant to wear it with pride and honor rather than just physically bent or scratched.
I would love to have worn my father’s sergeant’s star 824. It’s been retired and it’s hanging in the Department’s Honored Star showcase at police headquarters. My father’s best friend wore it after my father. Sgt. James Schaffer was shot and killed in the line of duty on 14 April 1969.
I had my own police officer’s star 4065. I don’t know who had it before me. My father’s P.O. star was in use by someone else when I was hired. My sister-in-law was sworn in as a P.O. after I made sergeant. She wears my P.O.’s button now. I hope when she retires it gets turned in nice and shiny. Oh, by the way, it’s common to refer to your star as your button on the CPD.
I have a partner who has had the same star number as both a P.O. and sergeant. They needed more numbers for sergeants at the same time he was promoted so he got the same number back but on a sergeant’s star.
It’s considered bad luck to lose your star. Not just because of the loss of pay as punishment.
You see a star is a tradition. Wearing it on your shirt or jacket is a sign of your authority and tells people you will risk your life for them. You will race towards the sounds of gunfire. You will run into burning apartments before the fire department arrives to make sure no one is trapped. You will search darkened buildings looking for lost children. Whether your squad says Serve and Protect or Protect and Serve on its side, you know in your heart it’s true, no matter how corny the saying may be.
Today, when society seems to have turned against the men and women in blue there are still families that pass the tradition on to the next generation. They take pride in knowing the star that they wore so long now protects a loved one. Police families where the next generation chooses not to pursue policing pass on the meaning of honor and respect.
I have my three stars in a Lexan display. In 2002, they changed to a new style star and retired the old ones from 1955. I wore each of these three stars and I also had the new style lieutenant’s star. I keep them on a shelf where I see them every day. They remind me of my family, both blood, and blue. They remind me of the oath I took each time I was sworn in. They mean the world to me.
I still carry one whenever I leave the house. It says a lot about me. It is a Chicago police star and it says retired. I’m proud of that one.
A few days ago there was an item in the news. A 70-year-old, retired Chicago police officer saw a 22-year-old woman fighting with her boyfriend. The retiree stepped in to help. The boyfriend jumped in his car and ran the 70-year-old over, going back and forth several times. The retiree needs to have part of his leg amputated as a result.
We’re filled with traditions. One is to always try to help even when it means you’re at risk. Although you took the star off your uniform shirt years ago, you can never take it off your soul.
Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union. He served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.