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Police departments are under more scrutiny these days, even as officers’ jobs get tougher amid violence, especially in urban areas. Phoenix, a major city and metropolitan area, is no exception and is facing an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over allegations of excessive force and discrimination. Meanwhile, a related issue that may be investigated is the use of “challenge coins” by the Phoenix Police Department.

The coins have been used across the country to highlight such things as unit numbers and brave or heroic acts. The idea spread from the military as veterans joined police forces and is intended as a morale booster. This is mostly good — unless misconduct or unfortunate events are celebrated.

That happened when a coin circulated in Phoenix highlighted a violent act that was connected to a protest in 2017. In the incident, a protester was struck in the groin by an officer, and the coin celebrated that. Speculation has followed that language on the coin might have been neo-Nazi in nature.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has received a letter of reprimand regarding the coin usage. She was directed to toughen policies regarding hate speech and use of the coins. According to The Arizona Republic, the coins sometimes are issued at the request of officers or family members with no real control by the department.

It is unknown whether the coin problem will be included in the federal investigation. The significance of that investigation still is unknown to the public, but the coin in this case obviously is a significant mistake.

Policing is a hard job, tougher than in previous times. The coins are a mostly harmless way of strengthening morale and camaraderie. However, misuse of them can be a serious problem. Rules against that are necessary, but more than that, so is the use of common sense, and in this case it was obviously lacking.

— Donovan Kramer Jr.

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