Thin Blue Line Update

In November 2020, Chief Roman released a statement in reaction to feedback we received from our community following a photo we shared on social media that included the imagery of a “thin blue line” flag in the background. In the statement, UWPD shared the history of the thin blue line in the world of policing, and unequivocally condemned any usage or depiction of this imagery intended to defend hate or to attempt to invalidate social justice movements advocating for meaningful police reform. 

UWPD also committed to an ongoing discussion about the imagery – both inside and outside our walls – and promised to share updates with our community. On January 15, 2021, Chief Roman shared the following email with UWPD staff – we’re sharing it today as an update on our progress: 

Team –  

I want to begin by acknowledging the extraordinary times in which we are currently carrying out our duties and responsibilities as guardians of our community. I certainly feel the weight of the national and local narratives that dominate the headlines depicting all police as white supremacists – a profoundly disturbing sentiment that seems to have gained wider support following last week’s insurrection at the US Capitol during which extremists once again waved thin blue line flags.  

I’m certain we can all agree that the actions and hateful ideologies of extremists who have so visibly co-opted the thin blue line flag in the promotion of their views not only threaten our democracy, our communities, and justice in all forms, they run counter to UWPD’s core values and significantly impede our efforts to build trust. This, in turn, places officers at greater risk physically and emotionally.  

Guided by our core values, my responsibility to ensure your safety as best I’m able, and by what I believe in my heart is the right thing to do under present circumstances, I am moved to enact specific measures to distance UWPD from the thin blue line imagery and the fear and mistrust that it currently evokes for too many in our community. I understand the complexity and sensitivity of this issue. 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. 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.  

At the end of the day, we have dedicated ourselves to a profession that demands service above self. As such, relevant community concerns, perceptions, and fears necessarily outweigh our shared professional investment in a symbol that presently separates and alienates us from those we have promised to serve.   

Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed. This includes flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc. Upon my approval, event-specific displays such as line-of-duty death observances, may be exempted. Similarly, visible tattoos that include the thin blue line are not required to be covered, as my intent is not that we reject outright the symbol for what we understand it to represent, nor do I believe it to be inherently racist/fascist as many purport.  Instead, my intent is to be reasonably responsive to its detrimental impact on many in our community for whom the visible symbol holds a very different meaning.  

I know that conversations about the thin blue line have been taking place in various work units following the tweet that showed the flag in the OTR and my subsequent statement. I encourage you all to continue these discussions. I believe we have the capacity to embrace a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” and while stopping short of dismantling our existing installations, I expect that I/we will be held to account for not doing so.  To this end, we owe it to our community and to ourselves to grapple with the complexity of this issue and consider what degree of divestiture is most valuable for all concerned.  

In closing, in addition to the restrictions around visible displays of thin blue line imagery, as we head into the next several days and the potential for peaceful protests to take a turn toward violence, 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. 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.  

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.  

With endless gratitude and appreciation,  

Chief Roman  

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi