RISE Honorees: How #supportblue is shining a light on the 'quiet majority' of cop supporters
Support Blue is an awareness campaign designed to bring attention to those who believe in and support the men and women of law enforcement
This Spring, TASER and PoliceOne launched our second annual RISE Awards to acknowledge the officers and agencies who go above and beyond in the line of duty. After receiving countless qualified candidates, we decided to extend the program with the RISE Honorees in order to give some of the strongest nominees some much-deserved attention for their efforts. The Omaha First Responders Foundation's work with cops and their communities through the #supportblue campaign has earned them a spot as a RISE honoree in our Community Leadership category.
Bridget Fitzpatrick watched, like the rest of the nation, as police officers and protesters violently clashed in Ferguson, Mo. As the year wore on, these images of unrest played to the point of familiarity. Anti-police fervor reached a fever pitch in 2014 — a stark contrast to 2001, when the events of September 11 ushered in a deep, visible support for law enforcement, and when the organization Fitzpatrick is an employee of — the Omaha First Responders Foundation — was started.
The foundation is a non-profit group whose mission is to enhance public safety in the Omaha community by providing resources to law enforcement and firefighters.
In the era of social media, narratives are born with the tap of a touch screen and spread like wildfire around the world. Fitzpatrick, along with her co-workers at the foundation, believed the negative characterization of police officers across the nation in the wake of Ferguson and beyond was unfair and inaccurate. After all, they had worked with many cops first-hand. Since the organization’s founding, it has supplied Omaha police with much-needed equipment, held first responder appreciation days, and started awareness campaigns encouraging children to build relationships with their local officers. In March 2015 — a month before events in Baltimore would again spark mass protests — the team decided to introduce a new narrative in opposition to the one dominating the conversation.
Taking Back the Narrative
Support Blue is an awareness campaign designed to bring attention to what Fitzpatrick sees as the silent majority — those who believe in and support the men and women of law enforcement.
“Ferguson stirred up all of the negativity all over the place — and the media were scrambling all over themselves to get these negative stories. If you were an alien just tuning into the news you would think we have the most corrupt police force on Earth,” Fitzpatrick said. “Support Blue is not a blanket statement saying policing doesn’t have its troubles. But it’s not about the individual, it’s about the collective. All of law enforcement shouldn’t be held responsible for one person who has a problem.”
The campaign called for those in Nebraska and around the nation to support police on social media using the hashtag #supportblue. The foundation also printed up t-shirts and signs and went on local news stations to get the message out. They challenged everyone they reached to post messages of support to police officers on their foundation’s website. Fitzpatrick, who also works for the Omaha Police Department in part as their social media manager, knew the importance of getting a positive message out on a medium as powerful as the internet.
Aside from what was happening in Albuquerque, Ferguson, and New York, Omaha was facing its own trouble with anti-police sentiment. During a hearing in March, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers compared the police to ISIS, saying that cops were “licensed to kill us. Children. Old people.” The comments further added fuel to the fire, garnering national media attention.
Ironically, they were also a source of much-needed energy to the slow-growing campaign. Politicians began tweeting #supportblue in response to the senator’s comments. High-profile people such as Warren Buffet, Larry the Cable Guy and Garth Brooks took pictures of themselves holding up #supportblue signs to further the movement. The campaign was beginning to pick up steam. Then, tragedy struck.
On May 20, 29-year-old Omaha Officer Kerrie Orozco was shot and killed while trying to apprehend a fugitive. She was just one day away from maternity leave. More than the First Responders Foundation could have ever anticipated, Support Blue was there when the city of Omaha needed it most.
“The campaign really grew wings when Kerrie died — it’s built with Kerrie’s wings on it,” Fitzpatrick said.
The organization sold 10,000 #supportblue shirts in honor of Orozco and raised $130,000 for a campaign they coined ‘Kerrie’s Causes’ — an extension of support for the community work Orozco was involved in before her passing, such as her role in the city’s Youth Athletic Program for at-risk kids. Fitzpatrick saw #supportblue shirts and signs peppered throughout the miles-long crowd of people who attended Orozco’s funeral procession.
The organization’s work in the wake of the officer’s death also caught the attention of the organizers of the Celebrity/First Responders Invitational Golf Tournament in Chicago. Fitzpatrick, along with other Support Blue team members, raised $1,500 dollars in donations while at the tournament and spread the campaign’s message to an even wider audience.
“It [Kerrie’s death] was too high of a price paid. It takes tragedy to really move people and to change them,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Quiet Majority and the Importance of Visibility
Fitzpatrick stresses that Support Blue isn’t about the death of an officer, but the resurrection of respect for law enforcement. She wants the campaign to remind the nation’s police force that the vast majority of people support cops.
“The foundation and I feel that most people support law enforcement, but most people are quiet. It is the loud folks that are screaming the negativity and getting attention,” Fitzpatrick said. “They [police officers] go out on these calls and see people at their worst. I tell them, ‘Hey, your community loves you’ and it’s hard for them to believe.”
Visible support, more than anything else, is what Fitzpatrick and the First Responders Foundation believe cops need in these difficult times.
“When we started the #supportblue challenge, I copied and printed out all of these pictures of people holding #supportblue signs — I posted them all over the [Omaha Police Department’s] roll call room. I saw the change in these officers’ morale as more and more pictures were posted and the movement grew,” Fitzpatrick said. She envisions a future where neighborhoods are colored by blue lights emanating from porches, trees are decorated with blue ribbons, and cars are plastered with pro-police bumper stickers.
“The country really does care — and now they have a vehicle to show it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Post-Ferguson, the work the Omaha First Responders Foundation has done to deepen the relationship between police officers and the communities they serve is more vital than ever, and it’s the reason we’ve picked them as a RISE honoree. To find out how you can get involved with the Support Blue campaign, visit their website.