Top cop fights crime behind Batman

OKANOGAN -- As Okanogan County's top cop, Sheriff Frank Rogers isn't exactly the shy type.

But he looked almost sheepish recently as he unbuttoned the shirt on his uniform to reveal the unmistakable symbol of Batman hand-sewn into the middle of his bulletproof vest. He's been wearing it for 22 years.

The black silhouette of a bat with its wings spread wide on an oval yellow background is the very same image centered on Batman's outfit in comic books. It's the one that the Gotham City Police shine in the night sky when needed the aid of the masked man and his sidekick, Robin.

Since becoming sheriff, Rogers has amassed a huge collection of Batman memorabilia -- most of which was given to him as people learned that he's a fan. His collection includes a chrome Batman symbol on the grill of his patrol vehicle.

Rogers was just a kid when Batman became a TV hit, and like many people now in their 50s, he watched the show religiously. His mother even let him get out of bed to watch when actor Adam West appeared on the Johnny Carson's late-night show.

But it wasn't until Michael Keaton took on the role in 1989 -- and Rogers brought his own 6-year-old son to the theater to see it -- that his affinity for the Caped Crusader reached a new level. He was a sergeant for the Omak Police Department at the time.

"I end up in a chase that night, and when we were done, I've got this guy slammed up against the car. He says, 'Who the %#@* are you?!' I said, 'I'm Batman!' "

Zap! Pow! Splat!

Having just watched the movie -- the now-famous line still ringing in his head -- the response just came out, much to the amusement of the other officers at the scene, Rogers recalled.

When his wife Minette caught wind of it, she sewed the Batman symbol into his vest, and he has been wearing it ever since. Soon after, as an anniversary gift, she had a sterling silver bat logo inlaid in the handle of his pistol.

Most people see his use of the Batman logo as good, harmless fun, Rogers said. But during the last election, supporters of his opponent criticized him for not having permission from DC Comics, a New York company that owns the rights to Batman.

A spokesperson for DC Comics declined to answer specific questions about Rogers. "We are pleased that the Sheriff has an affinity for Batman," the email from Courtney Simmons, senior vice president of publicity said. "Batman wants to eradicate crime and has valiantly dedicated himself to being a master detective and expert crime fighter since 1939."

The email also stated, "The use of the world-famous Bat logo or other Batman indicia as official symbols of a sheriff's office, such as on government vehicles, stationary or law enforcement uniforms violates DC Comics's rights and is not acceptable."

Rogers said he spoke to DC Comics when the issue was raised during his last election and the company agreed that he's not using the Bat logo as "official symbol" of the sheriff's office.

He said he told the company about his vest, the logo on his patrol vehicle, and a Bat logo on his service weapon. "They were fine with it," he said.

Rogers' Batman collection has expanded beyond his vest and gun.

When he was elected sheriff in 2002, he brought a few other Dark Knight figurines and knickknacks he collected to his new office in Okanogan. Nine years later, it's teeming with anything and everything Batman.

There are paper weights, Band-Aids, toothbrushes and toothpaste, posters, Frisbees, coffee cups and mousepads. There's a whole line of Batmobile-police cars he made for the local Boy Scout troop's pinewood derby. And more figures of Batman scattered around the office than one would care to count.

Beyond the chrome Batman logo mounted on the grill of his patrol rig, inside he has Batman-themed seat and steering wheel covers, a mirror hanging and a dashboard figurine. His cell phone rings to the Batman theme song.

"Ninety-nine percent of this stuff was given to me," Rogers explained of his overwhelming collection. And it only grows as people learn of his affinity for Batman.

"I'm 54 years old, and I still get Batman stuff from my mom. She'll write a note, 'Saw this and thought of you. Love, Mom,' " he said.