All officers see is the blue line – not politics, Solon Police Chief Richard A. Tonelli said.
Chief Tonelli’s comments followed Mayor Edward H. Kraus’ request recently to take down a blue line flag that the chief authorized in April to fly on a flagpole in front of the police station on Solon Road.
The mayor lifted that order late last week, and a different blue line flag has been put up.
“The blue line has always symbolized, for us police officers, camaraderie, kinship and support as well as commemorate the law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty while protecting and serving our community,” Chief Tonelli said, noting that the blue line flag has been in existence for more than 50 years.
Unfortunately, the flag the police had originally erected, which had stars and stripes and was black, white and blue, has been commandeered by political groups who don’t want to share the best interest of law enforcement personnel, Chief Tonelli said.
The flag came down at the mayor’s request, the chief said.
“The morale tends to go down a bit when the narrative is so negative about what we do,” the chief said.
Mayor Kraus explained his initial order to take down the flag. “I, as the mayor, asked that that flag be removed as a way of mitigating the unfortunate negative connotation that has been ascribed to that specific design,” he said in a written statement released last week.
“As mayor, I appreciate the opportunity to show support for our Solon officers and officers across this great nation who risk their lives for the safety of their respective communities,” he said in his original statement. “Their service to the safety and wellbeing of their citizens is the foundation on which communities thrive.
“It seems a few of our residents took Chief Tonelli’s raising of the ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag on department property to mean something that was clearly not intended,” the mayor continued. “Frankly, this is a product of our current environment and one that tarnishes even the best intentions.
“In the interests of narrowing the focus of dialogue strictly on supporting our officers, I requested the removal of the current ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag in hopes another symbol might be better suited,” the mayor stated.
Mayor Kraus said this week that he had received messages about the original flag and “felt horrible” in asking for it to come down.
“Then you re-group and say to yourself, you have to make this right,” he told the Times on Monday. “You have to find a way to honor especially the men and women of the police department.
“That was my major concern, and I wanted to make sure we came up with the right flag,” Mayor Kraus explained.
The original blue line flag that was erected last week by officers is not the altered version of the American flag that flew for five weeks, but rather an all-black flag with a thin blue line going down the middle.
The blue line is police officers, Chief Tonelli explained, and the black above the blue line is law abiding citizens who honor or respect the police. Below the blue line the black represents lawless people who want to create chaos. So, the flag represents police protecting law abiding citizens from the chaos, he said.
Chief Tonelli said in correspondence following the removal of the initial flag that “during the brief time it was up, it caused a divisive and unhealthy reaction within our community.
“It is unfortunate that the thin blue line imagery has been associated with extreme and dismissive views that are counter to our values,” he said. “Nonetheless, we are sensitive to the fact that it alienates us from those we are committed to serve.”
Chief Tonelli said it was never the intention of the police department to heighten tensions.
He said last week that this has been a tough year for police.
“I think the narrative across the nation is that police are cold-blooded killers,” Chief Tonelli said. “Some have gone so far as to say we stop individuals for minor infractions so we can kill them.
“There is a push to defund police, and we are demonized and at the same time this year police officers have been ambushed and killed at an alarming rate,” he continued. This is something that is not told on the news, he said.
Chief Tonelli said that police sacrifice a lot to do what they think is important, which is serving and protecting the community.
“They sacrifice time with their families and work on holidays,” he said. “They put their lives on the line every day.”
Chief Tonelli said he wanted to commend the mayor following his most recent statement and allowing the new flag to be raised in front of the police department.
“He was good enough to listen to our argument about the flag and what it means to us,” Chief Tonelli said.
Chief Tonelli said the department is pleased to have a flag up.
“That is the symbol we want to champion,” he said.
This past week has been emotional for both sides, the chief said, and the new flag “will mitigate the situation.
“This is a win-win for everybody.”
The flag has drawn views from the community and on social media sites.
Councilman Robert Shimits took down his original post, he said, and apologized for it.
He had stated that the mayor’s decision to have the flag removed was a “knee jerk reaction to all the chatter on social media.
“It’s a shame that a small minority of self-righteous uniformed keyboard warriors can influence decisions,” Mr. Shimits had stated. “We, being the informed educated majority should be able to right this wrong.”
He said he wished to apologize and that “people are very passionate of their interpretation of the flag.” Mr. Shimits said he is very excited that a compromise was reached, and a new flag was put up.
Mr. Shimits said he takes to task all the people that have harassed and made threatening phone calls to the mayor and others about this issue. “It is totally uncalled for.”
Jack Calvey, commander of the Solon VFW Post 1863, said he favors a flag being erected for police because they “deserve credit.” But he does not agree with altering the American flag, he said.
Mayor Kraus said he wanted to learn from this situation. The intent was to always support the police, he added, and find the right solution.
He said he is a “traditionalist” and does not think anything should be put on the American flag. When they lifted the new flag, he said, “you get the sense it was the right thing to do.
“When I asked to take it down, in my heart and mind, I knew we had to make this right,” the mayor said.