AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Bob Fry, who recently retired from the Aiken Department of Public Safety, got his first in police patch in 1985. Today, he has almost 6,000 law enforcement and fire safety patches; 5,669 to be exact.
Fry retired from ADPS in 2018. He started his career working as an EMT and then started doing dispatch at a Monroeville hospital.
Through his work, he was able to connect with Carlow University and get to know a few officers in their police department. The police department had a patch collection and Fry was hooked; at 42 years old, it was the beginning of a large, new hobby.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Fry said it’s pretty simple to get patches. It just takes a little bit of travel and a whole lot of networking.
Some departments will give people patches if they stop in and ask for one, Fry explained. However, if there is a collector at the department, they will ask to trade. “I’ve had responses back saying, ‘Well, someone in our department collects. Can you send him a patch?’” he said.
Sometimes patches will show up mysteriously. “I’ve had patches show up in brown paper on envelopes at my front door. I don’t question how they got there,” he said.
Fry said he also goes to shows to view other collections and trade.
“There are shows all over the nation,” he said. “I’ve been to shows here in South Carolina (and) Georgia.”
When asked how he thinks his collection compares to the others he’s seen, he said his is pretty small. “I’ve got friends with over 77,000 (patches),” Fry said. “But most people are surprised. I even get the the wow factor from some of the smaller police departments that I’ve traded with.”
However, Fry said some police departments are becoming increasingly hesitant about giving out patches, fearing officer impersonation.
“With the state the country’s in right now, it’s even worse,” Fry said. “There are certain departments that will say they do not honor patch requests because they have found their patches on eBay, which is a no no. It’s a big issue. That’s why I don’t get into badges at all — because that’s the No. 1 way to impersonate an officer.”
A SOCIAL HOBBY
While many hobbies are fairly personal, Fry said the social aspect of patch collecting is what drew him in.
“I enjoy meeting people and trading patches, war stories and whatever else,” he said.
The collection is more than just a hobby to Fry. He also collects memorabilia of fallen officers.
One of his favorite boards is one he created in honor of ADPS officers Master Corporal Sandra Elizabeth “Sandy” Rogers and Master Public Safety Officer Edward Scott Richardson containing memorial patches and official public safety photos.
Both were killed in the line of duty: Rogers on Jan. 28, 2012, and Richardson on Dec. 21, 2011.
“We do it because we enjoy it, but it’s also to honor everybody that is working and has worked in public safety, in all areas,” he said.
Fry prioritized finding all the local department patches and has collected every single patch in Aiken County police and fire departments.
“I had all of the law enforcement (patches) in Aiken County and now I have all of the fire department patches. The last patch I needed was Wagener, which I got earlier this year,” Fry said.
KEEPING TRACK OF IT ALL
How does someone keep track of thousands of patches without collecting duplicates?
Fry said he has created a system to keep everything organized.
“What I do is I have a binder with notebook paper in it, and as I get new stuff, I just go down the page, whether it’s a state, federal or military, and record them,” he said.
However, if he thinks he might have a duplicate, he has to search through his entire collection and compare the new patch to the one he already has. He said there can be tiny differences in the font and other details.
“I can tell how old the patch is roughly by looking at the back of it,” Fry said. “The older patches have cheesecloth backing, and when I see that, I know that you’re talking about 30 years or older. If it’s felt, I know that it’s it’s even older than that.”
Fry said his favorite patch is one his friend traded for him while she was on a cross-country trip.
“She brought me back a total of 38 patches from departments and one of the patches was a U.S. Marshals patch. When I saw that, I almost fell off the chair,” he said. “It’s a Badgerland Fugitive Apprehension Squad patch from Wisconsin — I’ve seen it online, but I have never seen it in anybody else’s collections. Those are the kind of patches I like to get because the feds tend to be a little bit tough about releasing patches.”
STORAGE AND PRESENTATION
Fry’s collection is too large to display all of his patches, so he puts his favorites in display boards and will rotate them out every so often.
“I have had a number of them in the closet in the bedroom, but the majority of the boards are all out in the garage, and everything else right now is stored in storage,” he said.
He said one of his goals is to buy another house and convert part of it into a large display area. His dream space would have boards running across all four walls and a space to store all of his albums of patches.
“It would be nice to show people and refer to them when I need them,” he said.
He also would have an area dedicated to his law enforcement and fire department license plates, hats, T-shirts and decals.