Tailpipe stumbled innocently enough into this chaotic scene the other day when he decided to ask about "honorary badges." You know, those little gold stars that some citizens are awarded for being, uh, friends of the sheriff. How cool it would be, the 'Pipe thought, to have one of those babies on his dashboard when a cop pulls him over for some minor infraction, like cutting an amber traffic signal too close. This battered auto part even shook hands once with Jenne at a shopping mall. That should qualify the 'Pipe as friend, shouldn't it?
But he was met with stony-eyed reticence by the boys at BSO. Badges? We don't know about no stinkin' badges.
For the record, yes, Jenne has issued some "honorary Sheriff stars" over the past eight years. But don't ask who got them. There are no records of recipients.
"No one will be able to give you a reliable list of everyone who has gotten these things," said Eliot Cohen, spokesman for the BSO. "It's not something that we keep a file on. It's at the sheriff's discretion."
The curious 'Pipe found that to be a real head-scratcher, given that other law enforcement departments, like the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, keep meticulous records of these things.
Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw sometimes gives out stars emblazoned with the words "Honorary Deputy." It comes with a wallet-sized ID card, presumably intended for quick-access storage in a wallet. To make it easier to flash at a traffic stop, perhaps? Or maybe just to get a discount at local restaurants? No way, the cops say.
In the past 18 months, those badges and ID cards were issued to 24 honorary deputies, community members such as financial services magnate and polo enthusiast Neil Hirsch and the late groundskeeper for the City of North Palm Beach Charles S. Traxler, to name a couple.
Law enforcement agencies deny up and down that the badges serve as any kind of get-out-of-jail-free ticket. Says Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Jorge Delahoz, not even a legitimate deputy or police officer's badge will deter FHP's determined troopers. "We ticket lots of cops," he says.
But who knows what sort of considerations flit through an officer's mind as he approaches a vehicle whose driver has just committed a traffic infraction? Was the infraction marginal enough to elicit just a warning for a pal of Sheriff Jenne's but maybe serious enough to warrant an actual ticket for some hapless plumber's assistant in a battered pickup truck? Those are the kinds of decisions that police chiefs don't like to talk about.
For its part, PBSO won't comment on the specific deeds performed by these citizens to earn an honorary badge. It's all about people who do things that "support the mission of the sheriff's office," says Paul Miller, a PBSO spokesman. "This is purely ceremonial and transfers no special status to these citizens."
Honorary deputies whom Tailpipe spoke to say they resist the temptation to use their gleaming prizes for personal gain.
J.D. Parker received his badge for being on the board of directors of the Palm Beach Law Enforcement Assistance Foundation (LEAF), an organization of 35 Palm Beach businessmen that gives grants to officers injured in the line of duty and raises money with golf tournaments at Donald Trump's course.
"It's in my office, with the plaque that came with it," says Parker. "It says I'm the honorary Sheriff's deputy." Parker says he keeps both the badge and the ID on display, far from anyplace where he could flash them to gain special treatment.
"I think that there's a very clear understanding that they're not supposed to flash these things around," says Joan Williams, marketing director for the firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, three of whose members got badges for contributing to kids' programs.
Nevertheless, honorary badges crop up from time to time as evidence of cronyism, as when disgraced Boca Raton Police Chief Andrew Scott, who left office last year after he was accused of using his office to benefit wealthy and influential friends, was found to have handed out 125 honorary badges.
Tailpipe would love to know if developer Philip Procacci, who allegedly loaned Jenne's secretary Marian Yoka the $20,000 that eventually ended up in Jenne's bank account, got a badge. But, of course, the closed-mouthed BSO guys couldn't say.