Prohibition Inspector’s Donated Badge Tells a Story

Chris Cosgriff is the founder of the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., and, two of the most popular law enforcement websites on the Internet. In 2009, with the approval of the officer’s family, Chris donated Inspector William Payne’s prohibition enforcement badge to the National Law Enforcement Museum. We asked Chris to write about this donation.

Prohibition was one of this country’s darkest periods for law enforcement. Local, state, and federal law enforcement officers were being gunned down in city streets, basements of blind tigers, and in the hills and forests while searching for illegal stills. One of the most aggressive of these dry raiders was Inspector William Payne, who served with the Virginia Department of Prohibition Enforcement—the precursor to today’s Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Virginia Prohibition Inspector's badge, ca. 1919. Gift of Chris Cosgriff. 2009.7.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

Badge, ca. 1919. Gift of Chris Cosgriff. 2009.7.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, D.C.

Inspector Payne was gunned down in Alexandria County (later renamed Arlington County), Virginia, on February 21, 1919. At the time, he held his department’s record for the highest number of arrests. Demonstrating his dedication to the job, he had already been shot and wounded during another raid the previous year.

His story and legacy, along with his actual badge, were passed down through his family for almost 90 years. The badge, the only original Virginia Prohibition Inspector badge known to exist, ended up with his granddaughter, who donated it to the Officer Down Memorial Page several years ago for safekeeping until the National Law Enforcement Museum was ready to accept donations.

The badge is now where it belongs and will forever be a symbol of the supreme sacrifice that five Virginia Prohibition Inspectors—and hundreds of other brave local, state, and federal law enforcement officers—made during Prohibition. It will be one of several objects that will rotate on exhibition in the Museum’s “Gangsters and G-men Time Capsule.”