Morale builder or bad optics?
The challenge coin for the NYPD’s Gang Squad is The Punisher, a blood-thirsty Marvel Comics vigilante whose co-creator said is no role model for police officers.
“Under the most positive framing, The Punisher is a very emotionally damaged criminal,” Gerry Conway, who helped come up with the character, told the Daily News. “He’s someone who breaks the law — takes the law into his own hands.
“This is exactly what we do not need as police officers,” Conway added. “He is not intended as a role model.”
Challenge coins have grown in popularity among cops in recent years. They’re bought, traded and often handed out as gifts at department functions.
Just last month, for instance, coins commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month were handed out at One Police Plaza.
The Gang Squad coin, for sale on eBay for $9.99, is dominated by The Punisher logo, a white skull with long teeth.
The Punisher, a Marvel character created in 1974, is an ex-Marine who turns into vigilante when his family was murdered. It has been turned into a popular Netflix series starring Jon Bernthal and its logo has been informally adopted by various military units.
The Punisher logo is pictured here. The Punisher logo is pictured here. (Marvel) The Catlettsburg Police Department, in Kentucky, responded to public criticism last year by removing decals on police cars that showed The Punisher logo emblazoned with “Blue Lives Matter.”
The NYPD, however, said it there is no issue with the Gang Squad coin.
“This is a fictional character,” a spokesman said, “and nothing more than an interesting visual. The idea that it encourages officers to be anything but professional and duty-bound is ridiculous. Items such as challenge coins and T-shirts increase morale and build a team spirit among the officers.
“Departmental policy dictates that commanding officers use a common-sense standard in determining what is and is not acceptable for display [of] these items.”
The Legal Aid Society disagrees.
“The Punisher should not be a role model for police — period,” said Anthony Posada, supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit. “In comics, The Punisher is defined as a ruthless, vigilante murderer who tortures his victims. He is the judge, jury, and executioner.
“Embracing this character and his values does nothing to mend relations between the department and over-policed communities.”
Civil rights lawyer Joel Berger took it a step further, calling for the NYPD to transfer — and discipline — those in the Gang Squad responsible for the coin.
“This is outrageous,” Berger said. “Violent gang activity is a major public safety concern, but addressing it effectively requires building relationships of trust with the community and encouraging law-abiding civilians to work with the police. The vigilante ethos embodied in ‘The Punisher’ comic strip character is hardly a role model for building productive police-community relations.”
Berger also referenced “We Own the Night,” the defunct Street Crime Unit’s slogan, which was sharply criticized after four members of that squad shot and killed Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 shots in the Bronx in 1999.
Other slogans and T-shirts have rankled critics through the years, including a famous Ernest Hemingway line favored by some cops: “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it never care for anything else thereafter.”
But a police source, noting that some plainclothes officers have been spotted wearing T-shirts adorned with The Punisher logo, agreed with the spokesman, saying that if people think unit slogans and shirts creates an us versus them culture, they are missing the point.
“It’s us against the perps,” the source said, “not us against everyone.”
The Fire Department has also grappled with controversial logos.
More than a decade ago it ordered up new nicknames for some firehouses, including Engine 151 and Ladder 76 in Staten Island, which was named Southern Comfort until one firefighter smashed another over the head, busting his jaw and eye socket during a booze-soaked argument over Elvis Presley’s birthday.
The new name? South Shore Pride.