(Update: Adding video; comments from Bend PD chief, other reaction)
Says symbol of law enforcement role has become too divisive
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Amid intense scrutiny of police across the country, the Bend Police Department is removing a “thin blue line” graphic from the side of its patrol cars, saying what had been viewed by many as a sign of support for law enforcement has become a divisive symbol.
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz told NewsChannel 21 Thursday the blue line was originally intended to be a blue horizon behind the mountain graphics on the patrol cars. In light of recent events, the original meaning has been interpreted differently.
"The intent of the blue line with the black background is, of course, for current law enforcement is the memorial, the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life and service of your community," Krantz said.
Krantz said he made the decision to remove the blue vinyl decals two weeks ago.
"Some community members view it as an important piece on our cars, others view it as a barrier between the police and the community, so it’s my role to evaluate that and look at how we can best serve the entire community," Krantz said.
Bend resident Alex Burnett said he's happy with the department's decision, but he also said he thinks it is a "people-pleasing" tactic.
“I think it is a step forward, and it’s putting this conversation in the spotlight, which is a good move," Burnett said. "But I’d be interested to see what they actually have to say about it, because actions speak louder than words -- but at this point this is just words.”
Mikki Slaska, also a Bend resident, agreed.
"Removing themselves from that symbol, to me, shows they’re not wanting to make it an 'us and them,'” Slaska said.
Slaska said they understand why the decision to remove the blue line is controversial.
“Even if the symbol has been around longer than these protests have gone on, I think it’s been picked up by people for a different reason, and that seems like why they would take it away," Slaska said. "Because it no longer stands for what it used to.”
Krantz said he has heard judgments on both sides, but he said he wants to focus on the bigger picture.
"My job is to bring the community together with law enforcement, and anything that can be used as a division or divisive tool is to eliminate it, if we can," he said.
The police chief said removing the decal is not meant to take away from the intent of the community members who want to show their support for police.
A Wikipedia entry says the term Thin Blue Line, often related to symbols – some that show a blue line across a black and white American flag – “typically refers to the concept of the police as the line which keeps society from descending into violent chaos.” It also notes the link to the blue color of many police uniforms.
“Our patrol vehicles are currently getting a makeover, by removing the blue line graphic on them,” the department said in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, with a photo showing the blue line across the side of patrol cars being removed.
But in its Facebook post, Bend police said, “The divisive use of the thin blue line symbol to fit a narrative unassociated with our department or what we stand for, has unintentionally created an ongoing divide between some members of our community and the police officers who serve them.”
“In the spirit of mending divide, being inclusive with the community we serve, and to continue to build trust within our entire community, our current and future vehicle graphics package will no longer contain a blue line,” the department said.
“Moving forward,” the post concluded, “we will be looking for a design that incorporates a way to honor members of our first responder family who have given their life in service of their communities. Our goal is to have a symbol created that blends seamlessly with our existing mountain graphics.”
The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, also has a horizontal blue line across the back of its patrol cars, as well as a few vehicles with the black-and-white "thin blue line" American flag.
"DCSO is not removing them," sheriff's Lt. William Bailey told NewsChannel 21 Thursday.
Lt. Jesse Petersen with the Redmond Police Department said its patrol cars do not have a blue line.