Five-digit badges: How an HPD rookie went from No. 1 to No. 10000

Tom Kennedy, Editor

Rookie HPD Officer Rooel Gonzalez went from No. 1 to 10000 in nothing flat. The end of this slick numbers story ends over his heart where his Houston police badge was pinned at the graduation ceremony for HPD Academy Class No. 238.

Officer Rooel Gonzalez shows off Badge 10000, the first of HPD’s five digit badge numbers.

The milestone represented by Gonzalez becoming the first in his family to choose law enforcement as a career was craftily coordinated with an HPD milestone of its own – the issuance of HPD Badge No. 10000.

Welcome to the era of the five-digit police badge.

Retired or Retained

The department formed in 1841 reached a crossroads duly noted a year ago by the TAP Unit – which handles transfers, allocations and promotions. Sgt. Leaot Villarreal was well aware that HPD badge numbers were about to exceed 9999 and took note of the fact that only one of two roads could be traveled – either the road of recycling previous badge numbers or the route toward Badge No. 10000 and beyond.

Villarreal told the Badge & Gun that recycling was impractical. Some of the earlier badge numbers “had been issued to three or four different people.”

“A retired badge can only refer to a badge worn by an officer killed in the line of duty,” the sergeant said. “a retained badge is when you’re retiring honorably after at least 20 years of service or promoting. You can ‘retain’ your badge if you pay a dollar each for your badge and hat shield.

“Only if you have a legacy will the badge number ever be duplicated.”

Currently the department averages one or two legacies per academy class, although sometimes there are more than three.

Sgt. Villarreal and her three-man, er, let’s make that her three-woman TAP Unit put their creative juices to work when they received badge numbers 10000-10500 in the latest order from Blackington, the city’s badge contractor from Attleboro Falls, Maine.

The first cadets “eligible” for the new five-digit badges were those from Class No. 238.

“Here’s what happened,” Villarreal explained enthusiastically. “One of the TAP officers, Erica Henson, said, ‘How ‘bout we give the new Badge No. 10000 to the No. 1 graduate of the class?’

“Well, okay, but we usually give out badges in alphabetical order of the class graduates. Who was the guy who was supposed to get it in alphabetical order? He actually was a legacy. He ordered his grandfather’s badge number. He would not have gotten 10000. It was definitely meant to be.”

What Sgt. Villarreal meant was that the stage was set for No. 1 to become No. 10000.

No. 1 in Class No. 238 was Rooel Gonzalez, now a rookie on North Patrol.

“Everyone always points it out when they see it,” Officer Gonzalez said. “It feels really good. I’m really not sure how to put it into words. I can say it always brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

Unbelievable Number

“A lot of people don’t believe it’s my real badge number. They ask me if I’m kidding.

“I tell them, yes, it’s my real badge number and they say it’s really cool.”

The fellow officers at Northside have the same feelings about the big number on the HPD badge as the people on the street.

“My first day at North Shepherd they said they thought it was awesome,” Gonzalez said with a satisfied smile. “They – especially the older police officers – stop and see it and their eyes always get big. You can see the surprise in their eyes. They see how far the department has come along.”

The man behind Badge No. 10000 was born and raised in Houston, the son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom, Rodolfo and Dora Gonzalez. He also has one sister, Yesenia. He graduated from North Shore High School in the Galena Park Independent School District, attended San Jacinto College and eventually earned a criminal justice degree from UH-Downtown.

His first year at San Jac he got to know a martial arts instructor – Houston Police Officer Perry Mayorga-Guerrero, who became a mentor and encouraged Gonzalez to become a Houston police officer.

Gonzalez probably didn’t realize that his badge – and all the others issued in the numbered sequence after No. 10000 – are heavier than those containing earlier numbers.

The TAP Unit is pictured here with Executive Assistant Chiefs Matt Slinkard and Troy Finner. They are, left to right, Officer Erica Henson, Senior Police Officer Kristina Padilla, Slinkard and Finner, Sgt. Leaot Villarreal and Senior Police Officer Catherine Chapman.

Sgt. Villarreal explained.

“We (the TAP Unit) are over badges. We ordered 10000 to 10500 in 10-gauge metal instead of 16-gauge metal. It’s a real badge! The quality of the badges has increased as well. We’re moving forward with those five digits. The specs are the same. We just shrunk the font. And the smaller the (gauge) number, the thicker the metal.”

Serial-Numbered Brass

Further explaining the difference between “retired” and “retained” badges, the sergeant said the department must charge any retired officer who wants to retain his/her badge. “Why pay a dollar each for the badge and hat shield? Because the department cannot gift you anything. The department paid for it (the badge) and issued it.”

Granted, the amount certainly isn’t excessive. Villarreal explained that all proceeds are automatically contributed to the Texas Police Officers Survivors Fund.

Besides Henson, Villarreal’s unit also includes Senior Police Officers Catherine Chapman and Kristina Padilla.

One gets the impression these dedicated unit members know everything about every ounce of every badge. Today’s HPD officer’s badge costs $35. Then there’s a higher cost for higher ranks. Badges for sergeants, lieutenants, commanders and chiefs cost $44 a piece. Hat shields cost $23 and $27, respectively, for officers and supervisors.

Of course, the badges of higher-ranking officers have no numbers on the front. “There are serial numbers imprinted on the back of the badges,” Villarreal explained. “Each one has an individual number. They (the brass) may not even realize it. The serial number is for inventory purposes and if you lose it.”

Before 2008, the sergeant said, if a ranking officer lost his or her badge there was no way to identify it. Now with the serial numbers the identification is possible.

The TAP Unit is a part of Investigative and Special Operations under the direction of Executive Assistant Chief M. D. Slinkard. Among its other duties are the handling of all job postings, transfers, allocations and promotions.