We think Chief Roman owes her officers an apology.
UW-Madison’s Police Chief Kristen Roman lashed out in an email to officers after a firestorm of criticism erupted following her ban of thin blue line flag imagery, falsely blasting one of her own employees as “cowardly” for supposedly leaking an email on the ban to Wisconsin Right Now. No one did.
In the email, Roman also informed officers that the department’s Facebook page had been “blasted” with “harsh criticisms,” adding that she herself was “the target of the numerous vitriolic comments” in what she dubbed a “social media explosion.” She announced she had created two departmental town halls to answer questions about the ban.
“I would be dishonest if I were to deny my deep disappointment that one of our employees chose such recourse to satisfy their own displeasure,” she wrote, upset because she apparently believes an UW-Madison officer or employee leaked news of her thin blue line flag ban to Wisconsin Right Now. Multiple news outlets all over the state and country have since reported the story; however, we were the first to break it a week earlier after obtaining an email she wrote about the imagery to her force. (Incidentally, Roman earned $184,238 in 2018-2019; that’s more than even the Milwaukee police chief’s salary.)
“Aside from it being a clear violation of policy, it was a cowardly choice and a disservice not only to the department but to the very principles for which we have argued the thin blue line stands,” alleged Roman in the second email, which she sent after the story ran and outrage erupted.
However, Roman is completely wrong.
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Although Wisconsin Right Now won’t reveal its sources, we can reveal that our source for the story was NOT an officer or employee of the UW-Madison Police Department. It wasn’t even someone that a UW-Madison employee talked to. Furthermore, no one shared Roman’s email with Wisconsin Right Now. We obtained both of the chief’s emails from her department’s public information officer. The emails are public record. We were told the chief had banned the imagery, but not that she wrote an email, which her public information officer gave to us when we posed questions about the ban.
Furthermore, it’s a bit surprising that Roman thinks the ban would generate no discussion beyond her own department due to the controversial nature of it.
Thus, she’s falsely casting blame on her own force.
We think Chief Roman owes her officers an apology.
She is right that she was blasted on the department’s Facebook page, though. “You are a disgrace to the profession,” reads one comment. “Spent yesterday filling an application out for your department… looks like I will not be sending it and will look for another department that I can count on and have confidence in. I want to represent a department that truly stands for their own,” wrote another commenter.
Here’s what we wrote Public Information Officer Marc Lovicott on Jan. 15 after getting a tip (not from Roman’s force):
We added, “Also please consider this an open records request for any and all policies relating to thin blue line imagery.” The press statement line referred to an earlier controversy regarding the thin blue line imagery in November.
Lovicott responded on Jan. 19, writing, “Thanks for your email. We do not have any policies at our department related to thin blue line imagery. Our chief, however, did announce a temporary directive to our staff last week related to the thin blue line. The internal email from Chief Roman is below, which should answer your questions.”
We then reported on that internal email on Jan. 20.
“Effective immediately, visible public displays of thin blue line imagery while operating in an official capacity are disallowed. This includes flags, pins, bracelets, notebooks, coffee mugs, decals, etc.,” Roman wrote in that first internal email. She did make two exemptions: visible tattoos and possibly “displays such as line-of-duty death observances.”
Criticism then erupted, especially when Law Officer.com – and eventually major news organizations all over Wisconsin – picked up our story.
The “cowardly” email was sent by Roman on Jan. 26. As with the thin blue line flag ban, we’re the first to report it. Note to Chief Roman: We didn’t hear about – or get – the “cowardly” email from an officer or employee of the UW-Madison Police Department either. Here it is in full:
Admittedly, it is with a weary heart that I sit down to write this email to all of you today. Much has unfolded since I shared with you my reasoning behind the issuance of restrictions regarding public displays of the thin blue line imagery. I’m sure many of you are aware that our department Facebook page was blasted over the weekend with harsh criticisms and various thin blue line flag posts in response to a story posted on the ‘Law Officer’ website in which my email to all of you appears in full at the conclusion of a highly slanted and inflammatory piece. While I alone am the target of the numerous vitriolic comments, I understand that such negativity has an impact on the entire department. For this reason, and as has been my practice across a range of similarly difficult issues, I am compelled to address this one with you openly and directly. As such, and in the interest of moving us forward I believe it’s important that I shed light on events that led to this recent social media explosion.
Within an hour or two after I sent my email to all of you on the matter over a week ago, Dir. Lovicott received a media request that included pointed questions such that it was clear that information from my email and likely the whole of my email had been shared with this media outlet. Given this, we determined our best approach was to simply release my full email to the requesting reporter from ‘Wisconsin Right Now’ and the following day they posted a story to their website. This was met with no immediate interest, but eventually ‘Law Officer’ picked up on it and posted their own story, reaching a wider audience.
Doing the difficult thing because it’s the right thing to do requires courage, whether that’s making an unpopular decision, stepping up to respectfully voice your opposition to it, or taking the risk to share your own struggles around it by engaging openly and honestly in conversation. To this end I urge your attendance at one or both of the town hall meetings scheduled for this week.
As I’ve made clear numerous times, I am committed to the process and I don’t shy away from the messy or the hard. One need only review the scathing Facebook commentary aimed at me to know that I most certainly did not choose the path of least resistance.
So, this is my heartfelt invitation to you to engage, to ask questions, and to honestly and openly share your reactions, thoughts, and ideas around this difficult and complex issue. Successful teams are only as successful as they are able to work together to overcome adversity. I hope you’ll join me Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. to continue this important and necessary work.