The thin blue line: A symbol of heroism, not corruption

The thin blue line represents a stance that we are all in this together as protectors of our citizens. The alternative interpretation is just noise


The “thin blue line” is an internationally recognized phrase that provokes different emotions and thoughts depending on who is listening. I remember attending the police academy way back in the 1980s listening to one of the instructors talk about the term.

As he spoke, his tone of voice became somewhat hushed – as if it were a term not to be spoken aloud or outside the presence of law enforcement personnel. He described it as the line that separated “us from them.” What he meant by “us” was the police officers and the law-abiding citizens on one side and the criminal element on the other.

I was puzzled as to why it seemed so secret. I thought it was a noble symbol that I could easily get behind. As a young and naïve police recruit, I was unaware that this term was also recognized by some to have a dark side. I began to hear stories about how officers would cover-up for each other under the guise of the thin blue line as a symbol to protect other cops for whatever happens at any cost. This protection was not in a physical “officer safety” context but rather as an after-action item to conceal any transgressions.  

The "thin blue line" emblem is shown on the front license plate of a truck Thursday, July 5, 2007, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Image)
The "thin blue line" emblem is shown on the front license plate of a truck Thursday, July 5, 2007, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Image)

One Symbol, Two Interpretations
This idea of how such a term could have such different meanings never quite settled with me. One term describes a noble profession that will protect and serve the civilians of its jurisdiction against the evil-doers of society. The other interpretation conjures up a group of conspiring thugs that will lie, cheat and cover for one another’s misconduct in the name of “the cause.”

It should not surprise anybody which viewpoint the media and news outlets generally take. Some media outlets, TV shows and movies use the term (as well as others like the “blue wall of silence”) as shorthand for corruption and nefarious deeds such as unwarranted searches and seizures and questionable shootings of suspects. The 1988 movie, “The Thin Blue Line” argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Texas.  

When officers come forward to report illegal or unethical behavior, they are commonly referred to as “crossing the thin blue line” by the media. This suggests that the thin blue line exists to hide such activities.

I have been asked in court by opposing attorneys about the thin blue line as a mechanism that helps to provide internal cover for rogue officers. It is clear that these attorneys are trying to invoke a negative emotional response for the jury to believe that cops cannot be trusted because we are trained and encouraged to lie for one another.

But that is not the true meaning of the term – and it’s important cops take pride in it. The thin blue line describes us, in essence, as the sheepdogs that we are all familiar with. The alternative interpretation is just noise created by those who want to create controversy.  

An Honorable Image
The thin blue line represents a stance that we are all in this together as brothers and sisters. It has become a symbol of that line we must stand fast to and hold onto in order to protect each other from harm’s way. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder on this line, we demonstrate the commitment to all those who we protect from those that may want to inflict harm.

I wear my thin blue line bracelet with pride and honor as a reminder of the tragedies that are occurring against our brothers and sisters. I light my porch with a blue light now every night as a show of continual support for those still actively protecting us. I am retired now but still do what little I am able to do to support the noble profession that I love. I left it in the hands of those capable sheepdogs that valiantly go out every day and night. To you that continue to heroically protect and serve us, hold fast and steady and protect each other from harm. Stand proudly together along the thin blue line as a show of support and strength. 

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