After watching a U.S. Capitol Police officer beaten with a Thin Blue Line flag in the January 6 attack, and hearing from the community that the symbol is perceived as a sign of white supremacy, University of Wisconsin–Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman issued a ban on displays of the Thin Blue Line image in the workplace.
The flag design substitutes one of the red lines of the American flag with a blue line to honor the police profession and those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities. However, its display at far-right protests has raised concerns about the flag assuming a more controversial symbolism or being co-opted by extremists. In an email to UWPD personnel, Roman explained that law enforcement professionals have a responsibility to weigh community concerns and fears against a professional investment in the flag, Channel 3000 reported.
“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,” she wrote.
Roman directed staff to remove all visible references to the imagery when acting in a professional capacity, including flags, pins and coffee mugs. She did exempt visible tattoos or when the flag is displayed for line-of-duty observances.
However, some in the profession believe it’s important to reclaim the value of the flag. In neighboring Dodge County, Sheriff Dale J. Schmidt issued his own public statement, posted in full by Channel 3000, urging law enforcement to promote the flag’s value as a rejection of hateful ideologies.
“The Thin Blue Line flag has been a symbol of support for law enforcement by a very large number of United States citizens,” he said. “Those who display it typically support law and order. … To me, the Thin Blue Line flag represents that we in law enforcement are the last line of defense for law and order, and we will stand up for what is right in the face of adversity. We will stand up for the Constitution of the United States and everything the American flag represents.”