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A chance to earn a ‘Challenge Coin’

On Thursday, May 31, the Madera Police Department’s Citizens Academy graduated its 9th Class, distributing a sacred Challenge Coin to each graduate that completed a minimum of 11 of the 13 weekly classes. For those not familiar with the story of the Challenge Coin, basically:

“Challenge Coin surfaced during World War I era. The practice of carrying a coin designed specifically for a unit was popular with the Army Special Forces. Carrying the coin at all times and presenting it when ‘challenged’ to prove affiliation with that unit resulted in a number of consequences for those who could not produce a coin: the most popular required the coinless soldier to buy a round of drinks. That practice continues to be popular today.”

As a City of Madera employee, I applied to the Academy, was accepted and I was one of those graduates honored to receive my Coin. I had some expectations going in and most class sessions far exceeded them in both content and structure. The program featured classroom presentations and interactive activities that enabled me and my classmates to see what it’s like to be a police officer including training, dispatch, patrol, detective and more. I was named best in class at collecting fingerprints, but drew the line at experiencing what it felt like to be “tased”. Yea, no.

Sergeant Josiah Arnold, whose many roles include police officer trainer, gave a great presentation on the penal codes that give authority for enforcing laws as well as use of force. It was interesting to hear and see the thought process behind how policies and procedures are developed as well as what instances call for officer discipline or re-training. He was also the lead range master when our class went out to the shooting range and we got to shoot handguns, shotguns, and automatic weapons. It reminded me of one of the Las Vegas tourist places where you can rent and shoot a variety of weapons, only this didn’t cost me a couple hundred bucks!

We met the well-trained K-9 officers and saw them in action — amazing, and I definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law when they’re deployed — talk about focused.

Did the Academy change my perspective on law enforcement? Not really. Was it life changing and now I want to be a cop? Nope.

Every Thursday at 6 p.m., I arrived tired from a day at work and left the class three hours later invigorated and feeling well-informed. If I had to do it over, I would — it’s a good way to learn more about the community, the inner workings of local government and law enforcement.

I would be interested to know if in the extensive training the PD requires of its officers, they require instruction that address the implicit biases that can hinder principled policing.

I ask because Sergeant Arnold and the academy co-coordinators, sergeants Alicia Keiser and Paige Gacayan set a really nice tone throughout the classes, and I would hope all of the officers had the same mindset to genuinely connect with residents as they go out on patrol or answer calls for service. I do wish we would have had more opportunities to get to know our classmates in addition to meeting all the officers and learning about the work they do.

Week 14 was our graduation, where Police Chief Dino Lawson mentioned this academy class was the first class under his command, as Steve Frazier moved on to serve as city administrator. Chief Lawson wanted to be sure that we left with the message that police officers are human and that this was an opportunity to get to know them better and for them to know the community better. Then at a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jose Rodriguez described the program as “a show of commitment to its residents.” I have to agree and encourage others to participate and become a part of the “affiliation”. Your Challenge Coin awaits.

— Debra D. McKenzie,


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