Updated: Apr 28, 2022
My first patch was from an LEMC. I was so proud to be accepted as a civilian into a club of men I truly admired. I wore my vest just about everywhere I went. My bike, my vest, and I were completely inseparable. When I would return home, my vest didn’t go into a closet; it stayed out for all to see as a reminder that I was a patched member of an LEMC.
However, there was a conflict brewing that I wasn’t aware of. The club was a one chapter club in Missouri. The club was founded by a few cops from a local department. When I joined, the chapter was roughly 50/50 in cops/civilians. At that time, a few of the civilians in the club were taking liberties in a way that was interpreted as stolen valor.
Because of the civilian conflict within the club, the chapter quickly split into two - one chapter for the cops and one chapter for the civilians. Once the chapter split, they never rode together again. The club continued to grow, but the original civilian members hung on.
One of my strengths at the time of joining was marketing. I was invited to join the club because I could bring positive attention to the club and help it grow. Within two years, we went from one small chapter to over 25 chapters worldwide.
After two years of growth, the club changed dramatically. The bylaws stated that the club needed to be at least 50% Law Enforcement and the Chapter Presidents needed to be a cop for the chapter to operate. By the third year, only two of the chapters were in compliance with the bylaws.
Policing bylaws for a large club is strenuous. We tried to find avenues in order to get our chapters compliant again, but were met with backlash, mud slinging, and even death threats. With all the drama that ensued, it was time to leave. Egos got in the way of the true mission of the club, and it failed. I thought that, given my experience, I could build a better club. I grabbed the highest ranking officer of the chapter I was in; we tapped a few good men and started a new “Blue” club. This time, we were going to do it right.
Unfortunately as time would tell, the new “Blue” club went the same route as the previous club and it was overrun by civilians. Without recognizing it, I was part of the problem. I was asked almost every time I wore my vest, “Are you a cop?” Of course the answer was no, but the attention was always there. Even though our bylaws did not require me to be law enforcement, I started to realize that the kutte I wore gave others the impression that I was.
My vest was covered in blue. My back had an LE cube. Every vest in the club looked the same, but it was misleading. A few years later, however, I became a firefighter. I went to school, performed all of the necessary testing, and joined a department. I was red all the way. My vest now had only fire-related patches, and for that I felt proud. I felt pride of ownership over the red because I had earned that stripe.
Looking back, I realize I was part of the problem LEMCs face. I was not a cop, but I also didn’t hate the respect I got when others were unclear about my affiliation. I was proud of being in an LEMC, supporting our heroes in blue, and I had a false sense of confidence because my kutte felt like a social shield.
Stolen valor comes in many forms. Patch-holders should be aware of this; we need to stay in our lane and be proud of that lane. If you are a cop then wear blue; if you are fire, wear red, if you are military, then wear green. If you are a civilian, wear white with pride. There is tremendous value in a civilian force that publicly supports law enforcement and first responders. But we must be clear about our personal affiliations if we are truly being supportive; anything less is borrowing clout from the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day.
John “Wyld Stile” Larson