Mass. police chief retires amid thin blue line flag controversy
Chief Glenn Olsson said the controversy over the fire department's flying of the flag partly contributed to his decision to retire
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
HINGHAM, Mass. — Police Chief Glenn Olsson has decided to call it a career after 40 years with the Hingham Police Department.
Olsson, 62, said that he has decided to retire effective immediately after five years as head of the Hingham Police Department.
"The men and women of this department are first-class and it's been a pleasure," Olsson said Monday. "Definitely I'll miss it and the camaraderie, but I've been struggling to find time to spend with my family."
Olsson said that leading the department through the COVID-19 crisis has been tough and it "may have gotten the best of me." When asked about whether the recent controversy in Hingham over "thin blue line" flags weighed on his decision, he said it did, but that he had been contemplating retiring for a while and had spoken with Town Administrator Tom Mayo about it before.
"My parents said, 'When it's time to retire, you'll know.' And they were right," Olsson said with a laugh.
Late last month, Hingham Fire Chief Steve Murphy and Olsson, in consultation with TMayo, ordered firefighters to remove thin blue line flags from fire trucks after a resident complaint.
Murphy and Olsson said the flags, which are black-and-white versions of the American flag with a single blue line in the center, were in violation of a long-standing town practice that forbid displaying any political messaging on town property.
The flags were originally purchased to show support to the police department after the 2018 killing of Weymouth Police Sgt. Michael Chesna, but have recently "taken a different political meaning," the chiefs said. Firefighters refused to remove the flags, launching a controversy that has split Hingham and garnered national attention. Several pro-police rallies called for the flag to stay, including one July 28 in front of town hall, but firefighters took the flags off Thursday.
Tensions across the country have risen around policing as protesters have called for reexamination of the justice system in the wake of recent police killings of unarmed Black men and women such as George Floyd in Minneapolis. Recently, the black and blue flags have been used by "Back the Blue" or "Blue Lives Matter" groups that have formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police, often as a direct counter.
During a virtual Board of Selectmen meeting last Tuesday, many showed support for the chiefs and their decision. The selectmen all signed on to a statement originally drafted by selectman Joe Fisher, the board's liaison to the police department, that espoused support for the police department while standing by the chief's decision to have the flag removed.
Melissa Smith, a Hingham resident and candidate for state representative, said during the meeting that the rally earlier in the day drove home that the flag has been used as a calling card for white supremacists. She attended to support counter-protesters said attendees made racist comments toward a Black counter-protestor.
"I think that fairly proves the point that it was wise for our selectboard and for our chiefs to distance themselves from this particular flag," she said.
Olsson was sworn in as chief in May 2015, after 35 years with the department, replacing Michael Peraino. He was the town's 10th police chief and had previously served as the department's deputy chief. His older brother, Robert Olsson, served as the Chief of Hingham's Fire Department until 2018.
Katie Sutton a board member of the Hingham Unity Council, a group she helped form last year to facilitate community discussions around topics like race and inequality, said that the chief will be missed. Sutton said she once had a disagreement with the chief over off-leash walking and that he treated her with nothing, but respect and took the time to listen to her.
"Chief Olsson is a good man and he will be deeply missed in Hingham," Sutton said. "Civilized discourse doesn't mean we have to agree, it just means we have to recognize our common humanity. We need more people like him in leadership and in the world."
Glenn Olsson said his contract was due to expire in May of next year. He said he was looking forward to spending time with his family.
©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.