What Is the Thin Blue Line?

What the Blue Line With the Black Borders Really Means

USA - Pro Law Enforcement Rally in Los Angeles
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You've probably seen the symbol: a solid blue horizontal line or bar bordered on the top and bottom by black rectangles. They're on the front license plates of cars and trucks, on stickers on rear windows, on T-shirts, websites, profile pictures and even tattoos. But what does this thin blue line emblem mean?

The Emblem

The simple-looking emblem has multiple meanings, all arising from the same concept: police officers stand as a thin line that protects society from good and evil, chaos and order.

Depending on who you talk to and which police department you ask, some apply additional meanings to the thin blue line. The Hamden Police Department in Connecticut believes that it represents the line between life and death that officers face every day. In some cases, it may be a tribute to an officer killed in the line of duty.

The blue is derived from the traditional color of police uniforms. Most municipal police still wear blue, and blue has long been associated with law enforcement throughout the history of modern policing. The black simply serves as a stark contrast for the blue. The color itself is neutral, and it emphasizes the blue line.

The History 

The concept of the thin blue line is said to trace back to 1966 when it was put forth in a documentary exploring the cultural brotherhood of policing. It's come under attack innumerable times since then, first during the time of tumultuous civil unrest when the emblem and concept were born in the 1960s. It was a time when police were called "pigs" and "police brutality" was an accepted circumstance. This feeling carried forward into the 1970s. 

Fast forward to the millennium. Officers have recently been charged with taking the concept of the thin blue line brotherhood too far, extending "professional courtesies" to other law enforcement brothers, particularly for minor offenses. The charge is that the emblem on the bumper of a personal vehicle effectively says, "I'm one of you. Look the other way." Such theories have led some to criticize – and to misunderstand – what the solidarity of the thin blue line really means. 

Supporting Law Enforcement

For some civilians, the thin blue line emblem simply connotes a show of support for police, acknowledging the role they play in society. To others, it represents the solidarity and brotherhood that police officers share as fellow professionals. 

Standing Together for the Good of All

Police, like any other profession, have an understanding among each other for what they do and what they go through on a daily basis. If anything, the thin blue line demonstrates support for each another in a tough job. It's not an excuse to violate the high ethical standards that officers are held to, but rather an encouragement to stand on that line together in service of others.