Badges Catalog (BG)

Catálogo de Insignias

Below is a catalog or list of all police, fire and other badges relating to either Panama or the Canal Zone, that I am aware of. There are certainly more varieties out there. Please me if you have information regarding a piece which was not included in this catalog.


Badges refers to small metal objects with a design on one side and usually a pin on the other side, designed to be worn or shown to identify an individual as a member in good standing of a police department, fire department, or other organization. Panama since its inception as an independent nation has had a police force (sometimes combined with its military) and fire fighters. The Canal Zone for most of its existence had its own police and fire departments. All these entities used badges.

Canal Zone Police Picture of two Zone Policemen in 1912

The "Division of Police and Prisons" was organized on June 2, 1904. As its head, President Roosevelt specially selected George R. Shanton, a Western type of rough-and-ready sheriff. Shanton had been one of the then Colonel Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" in the Spanish-American War.

The Canal Zone Pilot from 1908 describes the new Canal Zone Police in an article titled "The Guardians of the Zone", which I quote as follows:

"The Police Department... has jurisdiction over and covers the entire Zone from Cristobal to Ancon and La Boca inclusive, as well as the islands belonging to the Zone.

The headquarters of Zone police is located at Ancon, C.Z., as is also the residence of the Chief of Police, who is also Marshal of the Canal Zone, Warden of the Zone Penitentiary, and Coronor of the Canal Zone is Geo. R. Shanton. The Chief Clerk of the Department is D. E. McDonald, who is in charge of Police Headquarters during the absence of the Chief of Police.

The strength of the force is 200 officers and men, who are about equally distributed throughout the different districts of the Canal Zone, the principal stations being located at Ancon, Las Sabanas, La Boca, Pedro Miguel, Paraiso, Culebra, Empire, Las Cascadas, Bas Obispo, Gorgona, Tabernilla, Bohio, Gatun and Cristobal.

Each of the above stations is supplied with a jail, and a majority of them have a number of outposts governed by the main stations being in immediate charge of a lieutenant or sergeant, who is required to report daily to Police Headquarters. All stations and outposts are also immediately connected with Police Headquarters by telegraph and telephone.

The present strength of the force is one chief of police, one chief clerk, six clerks, one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, twelve sergeants, twenty corporals, 80 first class policeman, all of whom are white, and eighty colored policemen.

The uniform worn by the white officers is khaki, with regulation campaign hat; that worn by the colored officers is khaki, with khaki helmet. The side-arms used are the regulation policeman's club, and regulation 38 Colt pistol.

Nearly all of the first class police officers - corporals, sergeants and lieutenants - are ex-police officers with good records in the States, or are military men with excellent records and credentials from the United States Army."

The Canal Zone Police uniforms were copied by Shannon from the uniform the "Rough Riders" used in the Spanish-American War. The uniform remained unchanged until 1941.

Harry A. Franck worked for the Isthmian Canal Commission for the first six months of 1912, most of that time as a policeman. He then wrote a book which I recommend. Franck in describing the start of the Zone Police says that a force of "bad men" from the "ferocious Southwest" was gathered to form the police force. He says that rapid attrition and replacement of men resulted in a broad mix of men from all over the United States.

Franck describes the organization of the Canal Zone police force as follows:

"The Zone Police force of 1912 consisted of a Chief of Police, an Assistant Chief, two Inspectors, four Lieutenants, eight sergeants, twenty corporals, one hundred and seventeen "first-class policeman," and one hundred and sixteen "policemen" (West Indian negroes without exception, though none but an American citizen could aspire to any white position); not to mention five clerks at headquarters, who are quite worth the mention. "Policemen" wore the same uniform as "first-class" officers, with khaki-covered helmets instead of "Texas" hat and canvas instead of leather leggings, drew one-half the pay of a white private, were not eligible for advancement... One Inspector was in charge of detective work and the other an overseer of the uniformed force. Each of the Lieutenants was in charge of one-fourth of the Zone with headquarters at Ancon, Empire, Gorgona, and Cristobal, and the sub-stations within these districts in charge of sergeants, corporals, or experienced privates according to importance."

Canal Zone Fire Department

The "Division of Fire Protection" was organized in October, 1905. Initially the division was manned entirely by volunteers. On December 1, 1905, a fire chief was appointed to organize the volunteer companies. In November 1906 the first paid company was organized at Cristobal.

Ralph Avery in his book describes the Canal Zone Division of Fire Protection in 1912 as follows:

"The organization consists of 37 firemen in addition to a chief, assistant chief, six captains, six lieutenants, and 15 volunteer companies with a total membership of 252. The equipment includes two modern automobile fire engines, one stationed at Cristobal, and the other at Ancon. The department answers alarms in Panama and Colon when property belonging to the Panama railroad or the United States Government is in danger, or upon the request of the Panama authorities..."

The largest and only fire of consequence during the construction years was at Mount Hope on April 1, 1907, when the quartermaster's storehouse was destroyed. The loss was approximately $418,000, a very large sum for that time.

Most of the fire fighting equipment was based on horse and carriage as they only had two "modern" automobile fire engines.

So far I have found few references to the Canal Zone Police or Fire departments after 1912. The one fact I ran across was that in 1940 the departments were under one individual whose title was the Chief of the Police and Fire Division. It was not clear when this merger took place or how long it lasted.

Republic of Panama Police Forces 4x6 pc305-01

The Republic of Panama organized a national police forces "Policia Nacional" soon after achieving independence in 1903. This police force increasing took a role in the national government. In 1953 it was renamed "Guardia Nacional" or National Guard and took on military as well as police duties. In 1968 the Guardia Nacional ousted the elected government and began a military dictatorship. The dictator that emerged from the initial power struggle was General Omar Torrijos. Torrijos' greatest achievement was the pair of new Panama Canal Treaties with the United States that provided for turning the Panana Canal over to Panama in the year 2000. After General Torrijos died in a somewhat suspicious plane crash, the next dictator to emerge from the subsequent power struggle was General Manuel Noriega. Noriega renamed the Guardia Nacional the Fuerza Defenza (Spanish abreviation FFDD) or Panama Defense Force (PDF as it became known to English speakers) in 1984. Under Noriega the PDF was more corrupt and vicious than the national police force had ever been before, and added the new dimension of significant involvement in drug traffic. Given the nature of Noriega's regime and personality and the large American presence in Panama, it was only a matter of time until the United States was provoked into invading Panama. Operation Just Cause was launched on December 20, 1989. Within 24 hours most resistance by the PDF was over. Noriega himself took refuge in the Vatican embassy until he surrendered on January 6, 1990. He is currently serving a long prison term in the United States for drug trafficking. A new "Policia Nacional" was organized in December, 1989 to keep public order. The new National Police force does not have any military duties.

Picture of two PDF members
From the Panama Defence Forces calendar "Agenda 1988."

Collecting Panama Badges

Collecting these badges of the Canal Zone and Panama is not for the "faint of heart" or those with an average budget. Few badges were ever issued of each type, and even fewer made it into collector hands. So badges are far and few between, and most command high prices when they are found.


Pricing is based on several factors, which ultimately are supply and demand. How many specimens are available and how many collectors want them. With the Panama badges, the supply is extremely low but the demand is relatively low as well. When a badge which has not been seen for a while goes for sale in an auction, it frequently commands an immediate substantial price. However, if two or three more specimens come along, the price drops dramatically, and sometimes there are no takers. This make it hard to develop a price list for the catalog. The prices below are based on the few actual sales and some guesswork.

Numbering System

The badges have been designated with the letters "BG", and grouped by issurer and era. Each group is given a unique number. Within each group, each piece is given a unique number. BG-1.x through BG-49.x are Canal Zone Police and security badges, BG-50.x through BG-69.x are Canal Zone Volunteer Fire badges, BG-70.x through BG-89.x are Canal Zone regular service Fire badges, BG-90.x through BG-99.x are Canal Zone miscellaneous, BG-100.x and higher are Panama Police and Military badges.

Click on the catalog number or description below to go to the full listing for that piece.

Badges Catalog
Page 1 of 3
No Previous Pages 1 | 2 | 3 Next >>>
Image BG # Description Rarity 2006 Catalog Value
Average Condition
Canal Zone Police and Security Badges
BG-5.1 Canal Zone Police No Seal RR $200.00
BG-8.1 Canal Zone Police Three Bars No Seal RR $200.00
BG-12.1 Canal Zone Police No Seal R $100.00
BG-15.1 Canal Zone Police Policeman 1st Seal Square Number S $ 70.00
BG-15.3 Canal Zone Police Sergeant 1st Seal Square Number S $ 85.00
BG-15.4 Canal Zone Police Gold Sergeant Hat Badge R $100.00
BG-15.5 Canal Zone Police Gold Sergeant Wallet Badge R $300.00
BG-15.6 Canal Zone Police Det. Sergt. 1st Seal Square Number R $100.00
BG-15.7 Canal Zone Police Lieutenant 1st Seal Square Number R $100.00
BG-16.1 Canal Zone Police 1st Seal Diamond Number S $ 75.00
BG-16.2 Canal Zone Police 1st Seal Hat Badge S $ 75.00
BG-20.1 Police Division Guard 1st Seal R $100.00
BG-25.1 Motor Transportation Guard S $ 75.00
BG-30.1 Canal Protection Division Security Guard S $ 75.00
BG-30.2 Canal Protection Division Security Guard Hat Badge R $100.00
BG-30.3 Canal Protection Division Security Officer R $100.00
BG-30.5 Canal Protection Division Watch Cmdr RR $155.00
BG-30.6 Canal Protection Division Watch Cmdr Hat Badge RR $155.00
United States Military Badges
BG-38.1 Canal Zone U.S. Naval Security Police R $100.00
BG-39.1 Albrook Field Fire Dept. R $ 90.00
BG-40.1 Coco Solo Master-At-Arms R $100.00
BG-42.1 Coco Solo Fire Dept. Fireman R $130.00
BG-45.1 Panama Canal Department - Military Police Corporal RR $200.00
Page 1 of 3
No Previous Pages 1 | 2 | 3 Next >>>