News And Politics

New LAPD challenge coin honors Endeavour shuttle

Oct. 11, 2012, 4:59 p.m.

One side of Southwest Division's new challenge coin. Former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton brought the tradition to the police department. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

What connection is there between the Endeavour shuttle and a military tradition that involves free drinks?

The LAPD's Southwest Division.

Challenge coins are a military tradition with hazy roots, but one story dates them back to World War I.

Troops were given medallions emblazoned with their squadron's insignia, and over time it became tradition that they carried that medallion at all times. If a challenger asked a troop to produce a medallion – which became known as the "challenge coin" – and the challenged couldn't do it, he had to buy a drink for his challenger.

If the challenged did produce the coin, then the challenger owed him drink. As with any tradition that involves free drinks, it was popular and lived on.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s, when former Chief Bill Bratton assumed command of the LAPD and brought with him the challenge coin tradition. Now all divisions have their own. One side will have the LAPD shield, said Officer Bruce Borihanh, a department spokesman. The other will have the number of the division and something that represents that division.

For example, one version of Newton Division's coin has the number 13, the words "Shootin' Newton" and the barrel of a revolver on it. 77th St. Division's has a stylized "77th St." And Southwest's latest coin had the number 3 and a bull.

Until now, said Southwest Captain Paul Snell. He told OnCentral on Thursday that his division has a new challenge coin that honors the Endeavour, which begins its journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center on Thursday night. He gave OnCentral a sneak peek:

Because the California Science Center is located within Southwest Division, Snell said he's looking into making the new coin the division's official challenge coin, since they were talking about redesigning theirs anyway.

For now, the coin will be available only to members of the LAPD and the department's civilian employees. But don't let that get you down just yet.

"If it's a pretty popular coin, we may decide to make them available to the public," Snell said.

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