CAPE ELIZABETH (AP) – Cape Elizabeth police used to give their uniform patches to collectors for the asking.

But the department has stopped the practice since the patches began appearing on the eBay Internet auction site last year.

“We frankly don’t like people making a profit off our generosity,” Capt. Brent Sinclair said.

The Cape Elizabeth Police Department isn’t alone. Several departments across Maine have stopped giving away the patches to collectors and the general public because of security concerns, expense and the propensity for them to end up on online auction sites.

Law enforcement officers have traded patches with each other for decades.

Collectors too have sought out patches for years.

But what was once friendly sharing has turned into serious collecting, police say.

“Patches have become like baseball cards, Beanie Babies and stamps,” Saco Police Chief Bradley Paul said.

Paul’s department gets an average of 200 requests a year by e-mail or in handwritten letters from officers and collectors around the world.

Skowhegan Police Chief Butch Asselin said his department averages three or four requests a week.

“I got an e-mail this morning. I deleted it,” Asselin said.

Maine State Police rarely give away patches anymore, either.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said he usually sends back a form letter that refers the person to eBay or a police supply catalogue.

On Wednesday, eBay listed patches on the auction block from the Portland, Yarmouth and Kittery police departments, state police and state corrections department.

The prices ranged from $2.50 for one state police patch to $51 for a complete collection of trooper patches. A total of 852 patches were up for bid on the popular Web site.

AP-ES-05-22-03 0253EDT

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