Law enforcement coin related to Portland protests being reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office

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An illustration of a burning Multnomah County Justice Center and a mysterious abbreviation are featured in a Law Enforcement Challenge Coin currently under review by the Professional Standards Unit of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

Several 2020 Portland Protest Challenge Coins were in a Facebook group of law enforcement challenge coins infiltrated by a group of local activists. Activists believe the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office specific coin design originated with Daniel Szarowski, an MCSO correctionsman.

Challenge Coins are commemorative medals popular with law enforcement agencies, often denoting specific events, agencies, or units within agencies. While some agencies issue them in an official capacity, including MCSO, private retailers also produce coins at the request of individuals who are independent of an agency.

The sheriff’s office denies commissioning the coin.

Facebook messages received by Street Roots show a Facebook account that appears to belong to Szarowski communicating with an activist posing as a potential trading partner. In the correspondence, the account that appears to belong to Szarowski credits the design and says he is in the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office. While the account contains pictures of Szarowski and the first name listed in the profile is “Daniel”, the last name displayed is not Szarowski. However, the last name shown matches the first name of another member of Szarowski’s family, a Street Roots investigation has found.

Additionally, at least one photo posted to the account included comments from multiple people with the Szarowski surname.

Szarowski declined to comment on the coin, and the sheriff’s office has no information to confirm who created the coin, according to MCSO’s public information officer Chris Liedle. Liedle said the coin has now been referred to the Professional Standards Unit after Street Roots reached out to the sheriff’s office for comment and provided photos of the coin. The photos, provided to MCSO for comment, were originally sent to the local activist, who is posing as a potential trading partner, from the Facebook account apparently owned by Szarowski.

Challenge coins, though they have a long tradition in law enforcement, have come under scrutiny in recent years from critics who say the coins often glorify police brutality and a warrior mentality.

The coin in question features an illustration of the blazing Justice Center on one side, surrounded by the words “we will defend this” and “remember the Alamo”.

The reverse of the coin features an eagle insignia over an American flag with a lightning bolt inscribed “CERT”, a reference to the Corrections Emergency Response Team who were involved in crowd control during the 2020 Justice Center racial justice protests. Surrounding the eagle insignia are the words “Multnomah County Sheriff” and a Latin phrase meaning “always ready.” The center image is surrounded by the acronym for the Multnomah County Detention Center and the date May 29, 2020 — the day protesters broke into the Justice Center and set multiple fires at an office.

The coin also features the inscribed abbreviation “NPNBW”. Street Roots obtained copies of communications between an activist posing as an interested trader and someone who offered the MCSO Justice Center’s coin for trading online. In the message, the person with the coins, whose display name appears to be a pseudonym, said “NPNBW” stands for a phrase containing profanity.

Street Roots found that the acronym was previously published in “Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence,” a book written by Rory Miller, former Multnomah County Correctional Officer, writer, and martial arts instructor. Miller’s author bio on Amazon states that he was a CERT leader for six years.

When reached by phone, Miller Street Roots said he made up the abbreviated phrase for CERT members, but said the acronym did not stand for anything profane. Miller declined to say what it stood for, as only people who complete a mission with CERT are allowed to know, but said the phrase has positive connotations and encourages team building.

M Quinn, a self-proclaimed transparency researcher for the group of activists who infiltrated the Facebook group, said the coins illustrate a sense of impunity among law enforcement.

“The law enforcement response to protests following the death of George Floyd has been nothing short of controversial, with apparent excessive use of force and wrongdoing,” Quinn told Street Roots. “These challenge tokens are souvenirs for those involved and as we can see they proudly display them among themselves. These officials clearly feel no remorse or fear an oversight, and the coins are a prime example of that. How would anyone expect law enforcement to “protect and serve” when they have essentially made themselves misconduct trophies?”

Liedle said MCSO does not endorse challenge coins made independently by employees, although there are no rules against personnel creating their own coins. The applicable rules only determine the appearance of coins commissioned by the Sheriff’s Office for the purpose of awarding personnel.

The MCSO regulations state: “The sheriff may authorize the award of a commemorative coin as part of a current award or award a coin for a specific reason unrelated to a current award. Commemorative coins are gold colored with a green enamel border on both sides of the coin. Commemorative coins must have the star and sheriff’s motto engraved on one side and the member’s name, the date and the award for which they are presented must be engraved on a blank reverse.

While MCSO has no rules against personnel creating their own challenge coins, Liedle said new rules are in the works.

“The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office is concerned about any product containing vulgar, offensive and inappropriate language or imagery,” Liedle told Street Roots on April 13. Property, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff’s Position, etc The policy will indicate that such items must be reviewed and approved by the sheriff.”

Notwithstanding the current rules, Liedle said the coin may not match values ​​set by the sheriff’s office.

“Specifically on this coin, if this challenge coin contains vulgar, offensive and inappropriate language or imagery, it does not align with the mission, vision or values ​​of the Sheriff’s Office,” Liedle said. “The executive was unaware of the language on the coin. We are also interested in what the acronym (NPNBW) means and have forwarded the content of the coin to the Professional Standards Unit who will determine if there are any violations of the policy.”

Electronic paper track

Public Venmo transactions between July 29, 2020 and April 16, 2021 verified by Street Roots suggest that MCSO employees creating their own challenge coins are far from rare.

A list of public Venmo transactions provided to Street Roots by the same group of activists who found the coin showed transactions between 10 Venmo accounts with the same names as current or former employees of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office who referring to “coins”, “challenge coins” or similar, an emoji of a coin between July 29, 2020 and April 16, 2021. Research by Street Roots confirmed the first 10 names and transactions.

Street Roots also found six other Venmo accounts with names that conform to the Oregon Department of Public Safety’s standards and training records for current or former MCSO employees involved in similar transactions related to “coins”, “challenge coins” or get an emoji of a coin between July 29th. 2020 and April 16, 2021. Other public transactions, including the 16 accounts, indicated that the account holders were in fact MCSO employees, including references to MCSO events.

Liedle said none of the 15 employees identified in Venmo transactions and subsequently brought to MCSO for comment had been corrections staff during the protests and none had been assigned to CERT. One MCSO member told Street Roots he purchased another River Patrol-related challenge coin through Venmo. Street Roots was able to confirm that the MCSO member was not in the department for corrections and therefore was not included in the list provided by Street Roots to the MCSO.

It remains unclear which coins were purchased through Venmo as the transaction notes do not indicate which coin was purchased. However, three Venmo transaction notes refer to “RRT Coins”. It remains unclear whether “RRT” refers to the CERT, some type of Rapid Response Team, the now defunct Portland Police Rapid Response Team (commonly referred to as the RRT), or to something else entirely.

When asked for information about the coins the transactions were related to, Liedle said MCSO had no information about the transactions or which coins were purchased through Venmo.

“The referenced members and their personal activities on Venmo are not an official MCSO business and as such our office has no information to provide,” Liedle said.

Street Roots located publicly available phone numbers for 14 of the 16 current or former MCSO employees and attempted to reach all of them. At the time of publication, an MCSO sergeant confirmed that he had purchased challenge coins through Venmo in the past, but denied purchasing the CERT coin and said he has never overseen protests or worked in fixes.

This story may be updated as more information becomes available. Piper McDaniel and Melanie Henshaw contributed to this article.


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