The University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department (UWMPD) is restricting officers from displaying "thin blue line" flag imagery while in uniform after the department received criticism for sharing a photo on Twitter that included the flag.
In a statement released on its website Tuesday, UWMPD Chief Kristen Roman said that after an ongoing discussion, the department had decided to make certain restrictions to how officers use the imagery while on the job.
According to the statement, it's now against department policy for officers to wear "thin blue line" pins and bracelets. Officers are also restricted from using notebooks and coffee mugs with the imagery, and the department will not display flags or decals with the image.
"At the end of the day, we have dedicated ourselves to a profession that demands service above self," Roman wrote. "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."
We broke up a theft ring this weekend that clearly had a faulty exit strategy.— UW-Madison Police (@UWMadisonPolice) November 15, 2020
This is what happens when you and your roommate attempt to “collect” an exit sign from each residence hall over the last two nights.
Please don’t steal exit signs. Or anything. pic.twitter.com/vPPSvVDhTH
Roman noted that she may grant exceptions for "event-specific displays such as line-of-duty death observances," and said that officers do not need to cover up any "thin blue line" tattoos that they may already have.
The "thin blue line" is a term the refers to the police as the "thin line" that divides society between order and chaos. According to the Marshall Project, term was used throughout the 20th century. But the American flag imagery associated with the term sprang up along with the Blue Lives Matter movement in 2014 — a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which calls for police reform.
Because the flag's history is rooted in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, some liberals and progressives have come to view the image as a racist symbol.
In her statement, Roman said that she did not believe that "Thin Blue Line" imagery was synonymous with racism or fascism.
"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," Roman wrote. "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."
Last summer, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Ohio replaced an American flag outside of a Cincinnati justice center with a "Thin Blue Line" flag amid widespread protests against police brutality, sparking criticism from Democratic politicians in the city.
On Jan. 6 of the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol carried "thin blue line" flags with them.