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San Diego police mandate solid-colored masks without logos

The order comes after some residents raised concerns about thin blue line masks

san diego police thin blue line mask

A San Diego police officer wearing a “thin blue line” mask responds to a crime scene.

Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune

By David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Police Department issued a mandate last week that requires officers to wear surgical masks or white, black or navy-blue cloth masks without logos or other adornments in response to what an official said were concerns in the community over the masks worn by some officers.

Police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi would not elaborate on the concerns. He said the Police Department listened to the community and checked with other law enforcement agencies in the county.

“To align with our partners, we issued a department order (Wednesday),” he confirmed last week.

The directive comes after some community members raised concerns about face coverings that depict the thin blue line flag — a black and white U.S. flag with a blue stripe. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the flag has been sold by various retailers in the form of a neck gaiter that doubles as a mask.

Behind the thin blue line is the idea that police are the force that stands between law and order and chaos. Law enforcement officers and supporters view it as a show of pride in the profession. Some also regard it as a way to honor officers slain in the line of duty.

Some community members, however, say the idea behind the thin blue line creates division between police and the communities they serve.

The flag itself has been flown in controversial settings, including among Confederate flags during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. This year, the flag emerged as a companion to Trump 2020 flags at various rallies, including counter-protests in response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the county and across the country.

Francine Maxwell, president of the NAACP San Diego Branch, said last week that her office had gotten calls from community members expressing concerns about officers wearing masks with the thin blue line, at times during protests calling for police reform.

Maxwell raised the issue during the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee meeting Oct. 28.

“The face masks that certain police officers are wearing are triggering and ... traumatizing to some constituents,” she said.

On Thursday, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit called Maxwell to notify her of the direction to officers about masks, she said. Although Nisleit did not bring up a motive for the directive, Maxwell applauded the chief.

“These are the kinds of things that can begin to build bridges in this climate,” she said. “Any time a community can feel that they are being heard by their police department is a step in the right direction.”

While she gave praise, she also faulted the department for not acting sooner. She pointed to an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune in July that examined the concept of the thin blue line and included concerns raised by community members.

San Diego police Detective Jack Shaeffer, president of the department’s union, said he did not know what led to the order, which he said he had no issue with.

“The chief has the right to determine what we wear as a uniform,” he said.

He said he has not seen officers wear any problematic masks on the job, but with so many different kinds of masks sold in the days of COVID-19, he added that he believes the order will create a uniform level of professionalism within the Police Department.

The department order is in line with efforts to create uniformity in other police departments across the county. In Oceanside and Escondido, for example, the police departments issued black cloth masks to their officers.

The La Mesa Police Department handed out black and white masks and neck gaiters with its logo. Similarly, the Chula Vista Police Department asks officers to wear black, white or blue masks and handed out black masks with its logo.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

NEXT: 3 things to consider before you raise a Blue Line flag

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