Police Chief Bans ‘Thin Blue Line’ Image That Was ‘Co-Opted’ By Extremists

University of Wisconsin Police Chief Kristen Roman has banned officers from displaying the ‘Thin Blue Line’ while on duty, writing in an email to her department on January 15th that violent “extremists” have “visibly co-opted” the iconic symbol.

Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Roman’s directive was made public this last week.

Normally associated with law enforcement, the black and white American flag with a central blue stripe has been adopted by fringe groups who oppose racial justice and social equality. Many of those organizations have perpetrated acts of violence toward minority communities and people of color.

The most glaring example was the January 6th “insurrection at the US Capitol during which extremists once again waved thin blue line flags,” she said. Five people died in the attack.

In her email, Roman wrote:

Guided by our core values, my responsibility to ensure your safety as best I’m able, and by what I believe in my heart is the right thing to do under present circumstances, I am moved to enact specific measures to distance UWPD from the thin blue line imagery and the fear and mistrust that it currently evokes for too many in our community. I understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue. Attempts I’ve made to point to distinctions and true meaning as well as denounce acts committed under the thin blue line banner nationally continue to fall short in ways I can’t simply ignore. The balance has tipped, and we must consider the cost of clinging to a symbol that is undeniably and inextricably linked to actions and beliefs antithetical to UWPD’s values.  

At the end of the day, we have dedicated ourselves to a profession that demands service above self. As such, relevant community concerns, perceptions, and fears necessarily outweigh our shared professional investment in a symbol that presently separates and alienates us from those we have promised to serve.  

Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed. This includes flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc. Upon my approval, event-specific displays such as line-of-duty death observances, may be exempted. Similarly, visible tattoos that include the thin blue line are not required to be covered, as my intent is not that we reject outright the symbol for what we understand it to represent, nor do I believe it to be inherently racist/fascist as many purport.  Instead, my intent is to be reasonably responsive to its detrimental impact on many in our community for whom the visible symbol holds a very different meaning. 

Roman also urged officers to “carefully consider the ways in which we engage with those who espouse ideologies antithetical to UWPD core values and the constitution we have sworn to uphold,” and to be “very cognizant of the consequences that jovial interaction, selfies, and the like, will have for the department and our broader community in the context of everything I’ve pointed to in this not-so-brief email.”

Roman concluded:

I understand that this decision may cause emotional responses, even anger from some. I, too, feel hurt and disappointed as we confront our current reality. I know this is hard. I know this issue is complicated. I also know that a symbol is not what holds us together or makes us a team. Rather, it is our shared commitment to service and to first and foremost doing what’s best for our community.

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