The University of Wisconsin Police Department responded to several community concerns following a social media post that captured a “thin blue line” flag on the department’s premises.
UWPD Chief Kristen Roman released a statement today in response to social media backlash after the department posted a picture on its Twitter on Sunday which showed a “thin blue line” flag hanging on the wall of the department’s office.
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Roman said the installation in the post is one of two installations displayed at UWPD. Both installations of the “thin blue line” imagery were gifts from community members, according to the statement.
Associated Students of Madison Chair Matthew Mitnick said in a written statement to The Badger Herald that the imagery concerns him.
“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 said in the statement. “UWPD knew very well the undertones this tweet would convey, and used it in a way to denounce student activism for Black lives.”
In the UWPD statement, Roman said individuals within and outside the profession believe the “thin blue line” imagery symbolizes a police officer’s dedication to public service and sacrifices for the public.
Though Roman said the department recognizes the connotation of this imagery has “different meanings to different people.”
“Sentiments about the imagery range from neutral to denoting professional pride to expressing support for law enforcement to highlighting a toxic ‘us vs. them’ law enforcement culture informed by hate,” Roman said in the statement. “This is particularly true today when the imagery has, in some cases, been co-opted to denote support of white supremacist ideologies, shirk police accountability or otherwise dishonor the police profession.”
Roman said the department condemns the usage of “thin blue line” imagery meant to defend hate or negate movements for police reform.
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Mitnick said in a meeting with UWPD last week talking about another controversial tweet — in which UWPD called out Mitnick’s personal Twitter account — Roman made concerning comments about the department’s use of social media.
“When a tweet is posted, it’s in a public forum … we use it to have fun and play … there’s banter,” Roman said in the meeting, according to a transcription of the quote provided by Mitnick.
Mitnick said this conduct goes against UWPD’s social media guidelines. UWPD’s Personal Online Internet Content and Department Social Networking Accounts policies state expectations for how the department should conduct itself on social platforms.
The guidelines in these policies state no member of UWPD should allow or permit any digital media to be posted which may produce an “adverse effect on agency morale, discipline, operation of the agency, safety of staff or perception of the public.” Referencing this line, Mitnick said UWPD’s tweet violates their own policy.
“UWPD Director of Communications Marc Lovicott knows very well the implications of his social media usage on UWPD accounts,” Mitnick said. “Including the picture of the thin blue line flag, especially given the current climate on campus, represents a direct threat to activists and BIPOC lives.”
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Roman said in the statement that UWPD is currently running its Racial Equity Initiative. With the goal to establish concrete, community-guided accountability measures, Roman said UWPD will address specific concerns on a case-by-case basis to evaluate whether or not policy changes should be made.
Roman said in the statement community concerns about the “thin blue line” will be discussed in these ongoing conversations, both internally and externally. The department will continue communicating relevant progress and updates to campus stakeholders.