Some Cal State Fullerton police vehicles have had stickers with the thin blue line symbols on them since January 2020, which are being removed following inquiry by faculty and the Daily Titan.
The thin blue line has a history dating back to 1854, where it was first used by British soldiers as a battle formation term.
The thin blue line flag became common around 2016, when a group of officers in Dallas, Texas were ambushed. People showed their support for officers by putting “Back the Blue” and “Thank a Cop” signs in their yards and mourners wore blue hair ribbons and neckties.
Sarah Hill, an associate professor of political science, called attention to this on Feb. 17 when she spotted the decals on a police vehicle in a faculty parking lot. She immediately emailed the interim chief of police Carl Jones to demand they be removed.
Jones did not investigate the matter until March, originally responding to Hill with reasons why he and the police force value the blue line symbol. However, after looking deeper into how the emblems got on the cars, he noticed something was not right.
“The first stickers went on the vehicles in January of 2020 and over a 10 month period, seven vehicles and one cart was found to have the thin blue line decals on them,” Jones said.
Jones said he found that former chief Raymond Aguirre would have been the one to authorize the decals placed on the cars. Aguirre retired in August 2021 and Jones was brought out of retirement to act as interim chief.
Jones said the squadron cars were taken to a sign shop in Brea to have stickers and decals placed on them.
“That sign shop, which is stationed in Brea, the city of Brea, they also had these thin blue line decals and our fleet manager was asked, ‘Hey, would you like these put on as well? Other agencies are doing it,’ and other agencies do have these,” Jones said. “He thought it was a great idea, so he went forward with it without authorization from the chief at that time.”
Now, Jones has said he is working with Fram Virjee, the CSUF president, to remove the thin blue line decals from the cars.
“But immediately upon discovering they had not been authorized and they were causing some heartburn with some members of our community, I passed on this information to my boss, the vice president of Administration and Finance, and we both passed this information on to the president of the university and we came to a collective decision to remove them immediately,” Jones said.The symbol became more controversial in 2020 with the death of George Floyd on May 25; the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” became further popularized to combat “Black Lives Matter.”
Because of this association, Hill said she wanted to reach out to Jones to express her concern.
“I immediately came up to the office and wrote to the police chief, Chief Jones, and used very clear language that this is deeply troubling and I asked him to please remove it immediately from all campus police vehicles,” Hill said. “He explained that it represents police officers who have lost their lives and the line of duty and so I replied to him again and said or replied to him and said, ‘Yes, that was the origin, but it has since been co-opted by racist groups.’”
There is a divide between how police officers may be interpreting this symbol in comparison to the public.
“The difficulty is in an urgent situation, when this vehicle shows up, what the campus community will see as a police officer arriving in a vehicle with a symbol that is used by racists. And there's not time to have a conversation at that point, right,” Hill said.
Key members of the campus police such as Capt. Scott Willey and Jones view the symbol differently in comparison to Hill.
“This is not a hashtag that just came out two years ago or whenever that was representing another group that's using it,” Willey said. “This has been a symbol that's been around for decades and like I said it's very sacred to police officers because it really represents our honor for the fallen men and women that have given their life in the line of duty over the last decades.”Jones agrees with Willey’s take on the symbol, reinforcing that he also believes it to be one of honor, as well as mourning.
“And if you've noticed, and I'm certain you have, when an officer is killed in the line of duty, you will see individual officers wearing what we call a morning band across the badge on their left breast,” Jones said, “When one pays the oath, makes the ultimate sacrifice, we have a right to be saddened by that and we have a right to honor them in the way that we do.”
However, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the “preferred mourning band is a solid black band” and “mourning bands with the thin blue line are not preferred.”
Additionally, Hill has noted that in the Guiding Principles for Social Justice document used by CSUF there is language stating that “by inclusive we mean every individual or group is welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate,” as well as “Create an Antiracist Community — Embed and implement principles of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do.” Hill said the thin blue line symbol goes directly against these principles.
Hill also reached out to Bobbie Porter, the assistant vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to express her concerns about how the symbol might be perceived by the student body.
Porter said she believed this to be a great opportunity to have an open conversation about the symbols on the cars.
“I'm very appreciative of Hill, she even educated me about how some other entities including some higher education institutions are having this very conversation on their campus,” Porter said.
Porter also expressed excitement over the ability to have this conversation about such a controversial topic. She said she believes it is because of opportunities like this that people can come out the other side better educated on all aspects of an issue.
“The fact that we have a faculty member on our campus who saw something that may not have an immediate impact on her as an individual, but she's thinking about the impact that could have on the community, and is taking it to the appropriate people on campus to have that dialogue, that's really exciting to me,” Porter said.
Now that the conversation has happened, Jones said the blue lines emblems are being removed from campus police vehicles.