A 'Thin Blue Line' American flag waves above the finish line

A ‘Thin Blue Line’ American flag waves above the finish line at Molly’s Miles memorial run in the spring of 2019. The flag represents U.S. law enforcement and is displayed to support police.

Columbia police officers have been directed to wear only plain white, black or blue masks, effectively banning the wearing of “thin blue line” masks or any other face covering that could be perceived as political.

The pro-police “thin blue line” face masks that officers all over the country have been wearing have sparked controversy and law enforcement agency bans in Illinois, Minnesota and California, among other states.

Police have worn it in scuffles with protesters at “Black Lives Matters” events, and it has shown up among white supremacist groups.

The symbol — a black and white American flag with one blue stripe — is often paired with a police badge symbol on some masks.

Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones confirmed Friday, speaking through city of Columbia Communications and Outreach Supervisor Toni Messina, that he had ordered only plain masks be worn. He didn’t specifically ban the “thin blue line” mask but said more uniformity was needed in masks.

“Uniformed Columbia police officers may wear solid color black, dark blue or white masks in the interest of providing a more uniform appearance in public,” Messina wrote in an email.

Jones did not address any public concerns about the “thin blue line” masks in his response to questions.

In a letter to the editor published by the Missourian in September, Columbia resident Lincoln Brown described seeing a uniformed Columbia police officer wearing the mask while in line at a restaurant. He wrote that the symbol has been tied to white supremacy.

“Is it the policy of the city of Columbia and the CPD to allow officers to wear, as part of their uniforms, items that carry such politically and racially charged meaning? ... Expressions of this nature by a police officer on duty question the legitimacy of the CPD, and by extension, the city,” Brown wrote.

Friday, Brown said he was glad the department had done something about the mask.

The department issued white cloth masks to civilian and sworn employees and issued black “gaiter” masks to sworn employees.

A representative of the Columbia Police Officers Association, Dale Roberts, said he believed some officers were upset about the ban but didn’t elaborate.

  • I'm the public safety and health editor at the Missourian and a professor in the School of Journalism. I'm experienced in directing investigative projects. Call me at (573) 882-1792 with story tips, ideas or complaints.

Recommended for you