June 3, 2002 at 5:22 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 1:40 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) - Police officers in Cleveland and others are permitted to give out brother badges -- half-size replicas of regular police badges -- to friends and family members as a token of respect.
The possession of a brother badge means you are a trusted friend or relative of a police officer.
But critics say the badges also are used to evade traffic citations.
"There is an insidious nature to it, even if it is only used in its most innocuous sense, to get out of a traffic ticket," said Lewis Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. "It says that there are two sets of rules out there: one for people who have a brother badge or a courtesy card, and another set for those that don't."
Courtesy cards are special cards given out by police to friends and family members. Brother badges are harder to obtain than courtesy cards and carry more weight.
A brother badge can be legitimately purchased only by police officers and includes the identification number of the officer who bought it.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Bob Beck said he can't deny that people use the badges to avoid traffic tickets.
"I don't condone it," he said. "But the union does not regulate the badges or their use. It's up to the individual officer."
Roy J. Rich, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Cleveland, said he sees nothing wrong with the badges. He said using a badge to wiggle out of a traffic ticket did not constitute abuse.
Rich said the badge helps put an officer at ease when he pulls a car over.
"Now the officer knows that some police officer believes that the driver is a good citizen," Rich said. "I think it would also be useful if an officer's family member needed directions from a policeman in another state."
Cleveland Police Chief Edward Lohn said he would do nothing about the badges because the department does not give them out. He declined to comment further.
Attorney Terry Gilbert said the existence of the badges posed a problem.
"When people hear about a clique that gets favorable treatment because of their relationship with the police, it hurts the police officer's credibility and community relations," he said.
City Council President Frank Jackson said he would be concerned only if the badges were being abused. He also believes using a badge to get a break from a traffic ticket is not a problem.
"I would be more upset to find out that police officers were going easier on people because of race or the way they look," he said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)