University of Wisconsin Police Department Chief Kristen Roman has banned the display of the so-called “Thin Blue Line” flag because of its association with white supremacy movements.
UWPD Chief Kristen Roman informed officers and staff of the decision in a January 15 email, which was publicly posted on the UWPD website on Tuesday.
On November 24, Madison365 reported that students were upset when a photo posted to Twitter showed the symbol on the wall of a UWPD office, and were demanding it be removed.
At the time, Roman issued a statement noting the history of the language and imagery behind the “thin blue line.”
“The ‘thin blue line’ phrase and associated imagery date back decades. To many within and outside of the police profession, it symbolizes a commitment to public service and the countless selfless sacrifices willingly made to honor that commitment, up to and including laying down one’s own life to protect the lives of others,” Roman wrote on November 20.
However, in the January 15 email, Roman acknowledged that it was time to abandon the imagery.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Roman said new department policy would ban “visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity,” including “flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc.” Roman wrote that some exceptions could be made for special occasions like line-of-duty death observances, and that visible tattoos depicting the imagery would not have to be covered.
In the January 15 email, Roman also advised officers not to be too friendly with any pro-Trump protesters who might descend on Madison to protest the election of President Joe Biden.
“I urge you 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,” she wrote. “Our usual approach to crowd management is not universally applicable insomuch as it compromises our integrity. 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.”
Some United States Capitol Police officers came under fire for posing for selfies or otherwise commiserating with insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol, shutting down the counting of electoral votes on January 6. Federal and state authorities issued warnings that violent protests could take place at state capitols on January 17 and during the Inauguration on January 20, but those protests did not materialize.
In closing the email, Roman wrote, “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.”