The University of Wisconsin Police Department is standing by its "thin blue line" flag — which is on display at a local station — despite students and community members' complaints of "racism and conservatism."
What are the details?
According to a Thursday report from Campus Reform, the University of Wisconsin Police Department shared an innocuous photo to social media about a theft of stolen exit signs.
A cheeky photo showed several masked officers standing around a table full of exit signs.
The photo's caption read, "We broke up a theft ring this weekend that clearly had a faulty exit strategy. 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."
In the background of the photo, a "thin blue line" flag can be seen on the station wall.
We broke up a theft ring this weekend that clearly had a faulty exit strategy. This is what happens when you and… https://t.co/ljN8M19dgK— UW-Madison Police (@UW-Madison Police)1605479093.0
What was the response?
The photo immediately garnered backlash from triggered social media users, Campus Reform reported.
According to the outlet, at least one user said the photo was "toxic."
"This is so toxic," the user wrote. "UWPD is proudly displaying the racist Blue Lives Matter flag and an officer is prominently showcasing a gun on his vest. Blue Lives Matter is bulls*** because an officer can always take their uniform off."
"[T]his was a funny story until I saw the blue lives matter flag," another social media user added. "It's pretty much an anti black lives matter flag. A sign of racism and conservatism. A fitting metaphor for a police department I suppose."
The Badger Herald reported that Matthew Mitnick — chair of the Associated Students of Madison — also voiced his outrage over the flag's placement.
"The fact that UWPD not only displays the thin blue line flag in their office but prominently includes it in the center of a photo-op really concerns me," Mitnick admitted. "UWPD knew very well the undertones this tweet would convey, and used it in a way to denounce student activism for black lives."
What did the department say?
University of Wisconsin Police Chief Kristen Roman issued a statement on the photo as well as the flag.
"A photo shared to the department's social media channels over the weekend has led some members of our community to express concerns regarding a 'thin blue line' installation that appears in the background," Roman's statement began. "The installation that appears in the post is one of two installations displayed at UWPD, both of which were gifts from members of our community."
“The 'thin blue line' phrase and associated imagery date back decades," the chief's statement continued. "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 pointed out that the department condemns "any usage or depiction" of the "thin blue line" flag "to defend hate or to attempt to invalidate social justice movement advocating for meaningful police reform."
Roman's statement concluded, "The department is in the midst of our Racial Equity Initiative, which aspires to establish formal, community-guided accountability metrics with respect to racial equity at UWPD. As part of this process, we have and will continue to address specific concerns that arise on a case-by-case basis to determine what policy revisions can and/or should be considered."