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WMU Police To Remove Controversial Symbol

detail of a black patrol car with a decal that looks like a blue, black and white version of the American flag, with the stars on the right
Sehvilla Mann

Western Michigan University's Public Safety Department is taking controversial stickers off of its vehicles.

The "Thin Blue Line" decals were added to patrol cars in 2017. The department says they were in honor of officers killed in the line of duty, including Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Eric Zapata, who died in 2011.

But the symbol showing a grey-and-white U.S. flag with one blue line has been criticized because of links to the pro-police "Blue Lives Matter" movement. It's been worn by police in some other communities clashing with Black Lives Matter protestors and has been adopted by some white supremacist groups.

Western police officials said in late June that the stickers would stay. But in an email message on July 7, Deputy Chief Carol Dedow says they will be removed. She says the decision was made to avoid having the issue becoming a "barrier for our community."

Dedow says, in her words, " is unfortunate that others have used the flag as other representations or symbols."

WMU Chief of Public Safety Scott Merlo told the Western Herald, the university's student newspaper,  in 2019 that the "Thin Blue Line" symbol had been used for decades as what he called "permanent mourning badges." At that time, Merlo said the meaning of the decals was misunderstood by some. His comments came after a meeting with Kalamazoo County Democratic Party Chairman Jake Andrews, who questioned the use of the symbols on university patrol cars.

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.