TACOMA — The Tacoma Police Department has removed all “thin blue line” flag stickers from its patrol cars.
The decal, a black-and-white American flag with a blue stripe in place of one of the standard six white stripes, is meant to show support for law enforcement and be a tribute to fallen officers.
In recent years, the flag has drawn nationwide controversy for its association with white nationalists and the Blue Lives Matter movement, a pro-police group that formed in response to Black Lives Matter.
The stickers have adorned Tacoma police vehicles for years, but Police Chief Don Ramsdell recently ordered them removed after several residents expressed concern.
“As a department that strives to create an environment inclusive to all, the Tacoma Police Department is mindful of any symbolism that creates division and controversy with the citizens its officers are sworn to serve,” spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said.
This month, the department removed the decals from about 130 patrol cars and replaced them with standard American flag stickers.
Some officers placed thin blue line stickers on their vehicles in memory of fallen Tacoma police officers, but the department also placed them on all new vehicles as part of a graphics package.
Officials are considering a new graphic to honor fallen officers.
Although department leaders were discussing whether to remove the stickers months ago, officer Helen Stieben posted on her TikTok account June 1 that she was making it her goal to get all thin blue line flags removed from Tacoma police vehicles.
“You know those things that you look at everyday and you just really, truly don’t look at them?” she asked in the video. “Well, this is one of them.”
Other officers took to TikTok in response, expressing frustration with Stieben’s view.
Officer Joshua Avalos posted two videos correcting Stieben for referring to the flag as “Blue Lives Matter” rather than a “thin blue line” and insisting the symbol only supports the dangerous work done by law enforcement.
“The thin blue line is not racist, and I will not allow them to turn it into something it’s not,” Avalos said.
Central Pierce Fire & Rescue also stripped the thin blue line stickers from 30 to 40 of its vehicles but said that is something it routinely does every six months.
Assistant chief Guy Overby said the department places memorial stickers on its fire trucks after a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy dies in the line of duty as a way to honor them. He also said it’s difficult to keep the stickers on for too long because they accumulate.
“The removal of any memorial stickers is not in any way related to the current environment regarding social justice issues,” Overby said. “We support the Police Department and we will continue to support the Police Department.”
Some see the thin blue line symbol as divisive.
It appeared next to Confederate flags at a 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was burned by protesters outside Utah’s State Capitol in May, and San Francisco’s chief of police banned his officers from wearing face masks with the thin blue flag for fear of appearing disrespectful.
In a letter sent last year to Tacoma police, resident Jackson Millikan urged the department to remove thin blue line stickers because he believed it symbolizes a “police state” and was insensitive to people of color.
“You have been imbued with the public trust and admiration, decent pay, great benefits, great cars and toys, shiny badges and guns,” Millikan wrote. “Do you really need to desecrate our flag too?”
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