Since 1941, there has been a Griffin patrolling the streets of St. Louis.
First, it was Robert Griffin Jr. He served more than 30 years in the St. Louis Police Department and pinned a city police badge on his son Robert Griffin III in 1966 before retiring in 1973.
Robert Griffin III was there when two of his sons became police officers in the city — Andy Griffin in 1993, and Kevin Griffin in 2005.
And last week, Andy Griffin, 47, pinned a badge on his son. David Griffin, 28, will wear badge No. 471, his great-grandfather’s badge number.
Robert Griffin III, 74, clutched a picture of his father as he watched his son give his grandson the badge on stage at Harris-Stowe State University during the police academy graduation ceremony.
David Griffin was one of three new officers following in family footsteps.
Jacob Johnson became the third generation of his family to join the force. His mother, retired Officer Ginger Kavanaugh, and her father, Sgt. Elmer Kavanaugh, came before him. Jacob Johnson’s father, Officer Mark Johnson, also a city police officer, gave his son his badge.
And Sgt. Ray Jackson gave his son, Ryan Jackson, his badge. His mother, Schron Jackson, is the department’s spokeswoman.
Seeing a tradition of service continue for his and the other families affected the proud Griffin grandfather as he sat in the audience.
“It’s hard for an old policeman to say it, but we occasionally shed a little tear,” said Griffin III, who retired in 1996.
He recalled how different the department and the city it served were when he walked across the academy graduation stage to accept his badge from his father. There were more than twice as many officers, the city’s population was nearly double what it is today and fighting crime seemed less challenging.
He watched as the 15 recruits in his grandson’s class filed past him on their way to their seats.
“Do they even shave?” he quipped, as the fresh-faced men and one woman marched by.
The occasion also reminded Griffin III of the words he passed on to his own sons when they became city police officers.
“When my dad went on in 1941, policemen were the most respected people on the face of the earth, and when I was coming on in 1966, we were in the middle of peace and love and the Vietnam era where they didn’t care for us much,” he recalled. “I told them there is a percentage of people that will never respect the police, and there’s a percentage of people, which is much larger, that has a tremendous respect for the police and the job that they do.”
Andy Griffin said he, too, talked to his son about the job’s challenges.
“I’m proud of him. This was all entirely his choice; it wasn’t anything forced on him. I always tried to lead him in a different direction,” he said. “Some of the things I’ve experienced in the last 25 years I wouldn’t wish on any of (my children). There’s things that you see that change you.”
Despite the warnings, David Griffin said he couldn’t see himself doing anything other than police work.
“It’s a family thing, and this is where I’m from,” he said.
And perhaps without knowing it, David Griffin said his father taught him a vital skill he said he’s going to need on the street: how to talk to people.
“It’s like it’s natural to him,” David Griffin said. “He can talk to anybody, and you would think they know each other even though they’re complete strangers.”
Chief John Hayden addressed the crowd and the recruits, warning friends and family to prepare for many moments, like soccer games and family gatherings, that the young recruits will miss as they will often have to answer the call to duty instead.
But Andy Griffin and his son may be together more than they ever were. David Griffin has been assigned to the city’s Sixth District, where his father works as a detective.
David Griffin’s 11-month-old daughter, Margaret “Maggie” Marie, sat in his wife Jessica’s lap, cooing and babbling throughout the ceremony.
Maybe someday, she will be the fifth generation to wear badge No. 471.
“Maybe,” David Griffin said.