A Navy Cross recipient’s call to a Florida police department led to a change in policy: Effective immediately, cops in Sanford will no longer wear Defense Department ribbons on their uniforms.
Capt. James McAuliffe with the police department in Sanford, Fla., told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday that they immediately suspended their current awards system and will no longer use Defense Department ribbons when honoring their police officers.
The change came as a result of a phone call made by Jeremiah Workman, a former Marine who earned the nation’s second highest valor award for heroics in Iraq. Workman was watching the trial of George Zimmerman, who has been accused of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, on TV on Monday.
That’s when the former staff sergeant said he noticed a police officer from the department who testified was wearing Defense Department-issued ribbons she likely would not have rated during her reported three years in the Army. So he called the department that afternoon to ask why she was wearing them.
They told him they didn’t have their own ribbons, Workman said, so they picked DoD ribbons from the local Army-Navy store and repurposed them for department use.
“It certainly wasn’t meant to be offensive to anyone,” McAuliffe told Marine Corps Times. “It was a matter of convenience and obviously wasn’t well thought out. But it’s been rectified.”
When the department changed their awards system about 10 years ago, McAuliffe said there wasn’t a lot of access to police-specific awards. Since then, they’ve found places where they can purchase awards designed for police officers, and they’ll move in that direction.
Workman said the department told him on Monday that they selected ribbons like the World War II Army of Occupation Medal because because they knew there weren’t many veterans from that period alive so they didn’t think people would notice.
“At the end of his explanation I thought to myself, ‘So that makes it all better now because these guys are dead?’ ” Workman told Marine Corps Times after the call.
“I’m glad to see that they corrected the issue,” Workman said Wednesday. “But how many other departments around the country are doing this?”
James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police in Washington, D.C., said this was the first he had heard of local police departments using military ribbons for their own purpose. Pasco, a former Army sergeant, said some departments allow veterans to wear the military ribbons they earned while serving on their police uniforms.
But this was the first time he had heard of Defense Department ribbons being re-designated for police officers, he said.
“I’ll see officers a lot of time wearing ribbons and I’ll look … at them and say, ‘Oh, he was there or he did that,’ ” Pasco said. “But apparently I can’t go by that anymore.”
Workman said he’s offering his services to assist police departments in coming up with their own awards system so they can stop relying on those earned by military personnel. Streamlining the awards for police officers would allow others across the country to recognize each other’s accomplishments, just like other troops can recognize the medals they earn, he added.
But Pasco said that the issue of awards for police officers is a tricky one because they answer to their state, county or local governments.
“Departments might say, ‘Well, there’s only one Marine Corps, but there are 4,000 police departments,’ ” Pasco said. “Marines set their own rules and so do police departments. That would be kind of the thinking in law enforcement – Marines are kind of a closed society and so are police departments.”
Nonetheless, Workman said spotting ribbons he found questionable just by catching some testimony on TV is good practice for the website he’s launching to call out military fakers. He said he has purchased the domain PhonyMarines.com and plans to out anyone claiming to have a valor award — Bronze Star with “V” or higher — that they didn’t earn.