Readers respond: Should thin blue line imagery be banned?

We received dozens of emails from readers in response to recent news that police chiefs were removing thin blue line imagery from their departments


Following news that two agencies had removed thin blue line imagery from their departments following community criticism, we asked Police1 columnists Jim Dudley and Joel Shults to debate the issue.

We also reported on a Wisconsin county sheriff who criticized the chiefs' decisions, saying he believes banning the imagery sends the wrong message to citizens and law enforcement.

We asked Police1 readers whether agencies should have policies in place regarding the display of thin blue line imagery and received dozens of emails in response. Here's what you had to say:

A sense of camaraderie

I believe that in this day and age, with the effects of societal changes taking place, as well as the scrutiny and litigation that comes with being a police officer, there must be something, like the thin blue line, to bring cops and other law enforcement professionals together when there are so many factors tearing at their very inner core. When I joined law enforcement in 1970 there was a feeling of being part of something special. Today, while mentoring in a PD academy, I don’t see that camaraderie or trust in fellow recruits. Just as organizations and companies have their partnership events and logos, it seems not only right but necessary for LEOs everywhere to be able to enjoy the same freedom of expression and partnership! Today, more than ever, we need that sense of being a part of something special.

Not violating civil rights

I just have to ask, when will we start caring about how the men and women of law enforcement feel? I have worn the uniform for 27 years and I am very proud of that. America has got to stand up for EVERYONE’S rights, not pick and choose who we will stand up for. I will fly the thin blue line flag with pride. There should be no policies determining the display of thin blue line imagery. It’s not violating anyone’s civil rights! 

don't be Part of cancel culture

It is a flag with a thin blue line that represents the honorable men and women who keep law-abiding citizens safe by standing between them and wrongdoers. The eradication of the thin blue line flag is simply a part of the cancel culture. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, neither will inanimate objects and images.

Support good men and women

Are we going to eliminate the other striping on the flag? Are we going to cease public support for all first responders and the military? No. Then we need to stop the hype that all police are bad and show support for the good men and women who are suffering at the hands of the media and the poor illustrations that law enforcement officers need be painted with a broad brush as disgusting people. It is not accurate and not deserving. So, to go back to the beginning...no, there should be no policies in place for publicly supporting the profession you are proud of. It is not a line dividing us from society, but rather a symbol that we still support one another and our efforts to uphold the oaths we all took to keep society safe. And thank you to the people outside the profession that still fly the flag that displays that support!

A morale booster

To keep morale, there should be no reason why the thin blue line shouldn't be shown in employee areas (breakroom, locker room, etc.). If administrators don't want it shown in public areas fine, but essentially outlawing it so to speak kills morale.

Educate the community

Make communities fully aware in a clear and unequivocal way the concepts underlying in showing the thin blue line flag and, in doing so, avoid possible misconceptions and misinterpretations!

The line represents the highest aspirations

I feel that every time an official representative backs down from the traditional display of this symbol of community, protection, security, law and order, selfless bravery and commitment, they are chipping away at the shield of those who swore an oath to leave their loved ones every day to uphold what is right and just. This shield is thick, strong and very heavy, but is hoisted by officers throughout their shift no matter what they encounter, only to be put away and picked up again when they return to do another shift. No one is perfect, mistakes will be made every day. But everyone (hopefully) learns to be better from them. Officers in retirement constantly yet quietly relive moments of doing good and mistakes that were made in their careers. Most of them know that they have tried their best to do what was right. The symbol of the thin blue line reminds them that the line is indeed thin, but strong, straight and true. We should not be shamed by those who have never served or been placed in this type of danger into thinking that the thin blue line represents anything but the highest aspirations and ideals of those who have chosen this unique profession.

Fairness to some is fairness for none

I’m familiar with two main forms of thin blue line imagery. The first is the two tone “subdued” black and silver U.S. flag with a royal blue stripe running lengthwise in the flag’s center. The second image is a royal blue stripe running horizontally across a field of black. I’ve seen this image incorporated into pins, stickers, mourning bands, license plates, wedding bands and everything in between. Regardless of which image is used or its intended symbolism, the bottom line is that law enforcement agency leadership has the responsibility to outline in written policy those things that are appropriate to be associated with or representative of their agency. That includes what is displayed on agency vehicles and uniforms, and goes for pins, patches, posters and bumper stickers just as much as it does for grooming standards, painted fingernails, jewelry and tattoos. The main thing is that policies have to be applied fairly and uniformly to all. Agency leaders cannot arbitrarily decide to support pink ribbons, black and yellow t-shirts or rainbow flags and then decide not to support black and blue pins. Those who do should not be surprised to find themselves being held accountable by those they lead or by their communities.

Any item can be “co-opted”

The thin blue line supports our police who are overwhelmingly supported by citizens across the country. Officers already face ridiculously difficult times, and too often are disallowed from doing the job they were trained for. The extremely few bad officers are greatly less than in any other profession, and to label all police by that few is nothing more than an effort to destroy our police and the reasonable law and order they stand for. Policies should clearly allow the thin blue line flag and related markings as supporting the police.

Stripe indicates support of American policing

I have been a police officer at various levels from patrolman to executive over the course of the last 25 years. I have seen the good and bad in police work and I condemn those who tarnish the very profession I dreamed of being in since childhood. Just like the honorable doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, firefighters, paramedics, chefs, truck drivers, financial advisors, bankers, military personnel – and this list could go on for days – who are ashamed of a few bad apples that have brought discredit about their professions, I am often sickened by what I see and hear in the mainstream media.

The media hype, however, has portrayed the blue line on the American flag as representative of the “thin blue line,” which has as we all know been the subject of scrutiny as it relates to police covering up corruption and failing to address problems within the industry. The blue stripe on the American flag by today’s standards is not just that though. The stripe indicates support of “American policing.” It is not a bad thing, just like the red stripe on a subdued American flag supporting firefighters; the green stripe supporting military; the yellow supporting dispatchers; the red/white supporting nurses; the blue/white supporting EMS; and the silver supporting corrections. Yet, because of the media attention on bad policing, the ONLY one that is under attack is the support of law enforcement. 

Agencies should restrict the use of Thin Blue Line imagery

If one wants to display thin blue line imagery, then they should display the original all-black flag. The current image is a desecration of the US flag as with anything that alters the US flag. How can one enforce the laws when they themselves choose to violate them? I feel it is not necessary to display such symbolism on government vehicles or on one’s uniform. Officers already show their support of one another by not only showing up for work but by wearing the badge itself. If officers are showing support to such symbols, then their loyalty to the constitution they swore to uphold and protect should be questioned. Agencies should restrict the use of such symbols while the officers are on active duty. What one does on their own time with such symbols is of their own regard, but one must realize that displaying such imagery can reflect how citizens view one’s actions when it comes to their on-duty actions.

Unnecessarily polarizing

It is important to remember when exercising the public trust in the public eye that any indication of divisiveness is not appropriate. What you do or display in your own home is your own business. However, when you step into your role as a public servant, the display of any flag other than the American flag or state flag or one authorized by your agency is unnecessarily polarizing and improper. Sadly, the phrase “thin blue line” has been twisted from a phrase of honor to mean “us against them” indicating “us is anyone in uniform against everyone else.” This unfortunate mentality has no place in civil law enforcement in our particular experiment in democracy as public servants working in cooperation with free citizens for the common good. There are many challenges to effective law enforcement today. We do not need to handicap ourselves with this token art piece.

Keep it off the flag

The thin blue line in its many forms has come to represent the separation between law and order from disorder and chaos. Even so, when it comes to incorporating that symbol directly into the American flag, without a vote of the populace, I think it is a step too far. However, that doesn't mean the thin blue line cannot stand on its own and should be allowed, as are other approved symbols, such as badges and department emblems.

Adopt a different symbol

We owe it to those who died fighting for our freedoms to preserve the dignity of our national ensign – the flag that draped their coffins. The thin blue line flags are clearly in violation of the U.S. Flag Code which describes proper flag etiquette and practices which reflect disrespect for the flag.

The thin blue line flags have provoked controversy in two respects: 1) The adoption by non-LEO groups to represent something other than respect for fallen police officers, and 2) The objections of those who promote respect for the flag.

Rather than demonstrating our lack of respect for the U.S. ensign, why not adopt a more appropriate symbol to reflect respect for fallen officers? Then we can argue about whether that symbol should be displayed on our uniforms.

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

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