Oconomowoc Mayor Robert Magnus apologized for ordering the Thin Blue Line flag at the City Public Safety building lowered during National Police Week, saying he acted “rashly” after fielding complaints and regretted the decision.
Along with the city’s police and fire chiefs, Magnus announced on May 20, 2021, that the blue and red line flags will now be flown again on a few select days in Oconomowoc. They are:
-National Police Week
-National Firefighters Week
-For one day in the event of any City of Oconomowoc Police or Western Lakes Fire District active duty or retired employee death.
-For three days in the event of any Wisconsin Law Enforcement, Fire or EMS line of duty death.
Meanwhile, the police and fire chiefs came to the mayor’s defense in other written statements, saying that they believe he supports police and first responders.
Wisconsin Right Now first broke the story that Magnus had ordered the Thin Blue Line Flag to come down. The story then got major play on talk radio, although it was ignored by the other media in town. Host Mark Belling credited WRN for exposing the issue. Shortly before our story, a citizen criticized the mayor to his face for lowering the flag at a Common Council meeting. Criticism of the mayor’s decision became quite heated on social media.
In his letter on May 20, 2021, the mayor admitted that he “ordered the Thin Blue Line flag at the City Public Safety Building be lowered last week, in the middle of National Police Week. This action was not only ill-timed, but inappropriate. I apologize to all of our brave men and women who serve and protect our community, as well as to any citizens who may have also been offended by this temporary lapse in judgment.”
The mayor added, “I have never referred to, nor do I believe that the Thin Blue Line flag is a symbol of racism. Upon receiving a number of complaints regarding the flag, I reacted rashly and regret doing so. I truly respect and support our police officers and the potential danger they subject themselves to every day to protect and keep our community safe.”
He said that “these past few years many flags have been viewed not for the positive intent in which they were designed.” He said he had worked with the police and fire chiefs to “provide the right practice for honoring the men and women that the blue line flag and the red line flag represent.”
Read the mayor’s open letter in full here: Mayor Magnus Letter(1)
The police chief, James Pfister, also released an open letter.
Read the chief’s open letter here: Chief Pfister Open Letter
“We will be releasing further information regarding the meanings of the flags and practice for flying the flags in Oconomowoc,” Pfister wrote.
Pfister wrote that it was his decision to display the Thin Blue Line Flag during National Peace Officers Memorial Day. “This was to honor and remember those law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, and to show support for the families they left behind,” he said.
He said he had the mayor’s support initially to fly the flag but “neglected to inform him of when it would be raised at the Police Department public entrance.”
Shortly after the flag was raised, the mayor “received phone calls demanding the flag be taken down,” the chief wrote. “Callers were upset by the flag because of their own political beliefs.”
The chief wrote that the mayor called him and they “discussed the situation.” He wrote that he apologized for not informing Magnus, and the flag was “lowered.”
The chief said that he wanted to make it clear that Mayor Magnus supports the City of Oconomowoc Police Department and “has never said or even referred to this flag as racist. He called the mayor an “authentic individual, who is proud to serve and is dedicated to maintaining and fostering an inclusive and safe community.”
The city released an informational document giving the history of the flags. It quoted Jim Palmer, President of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association as saying, “The blue line flag has long been a symbol of solidarity and pride within the law enforcement community, so much so that it has become a common ceremonial feature at events memorializing fallen officers… Regrettably, in the last year we have seen that symbol hijacked and misappropriated by groups with a disingenuous political agenda that bears no resemblance to the professional calling that the flag is meant to embody, and the violent siege at the US Capitol provided the best evidence of that.”
The document adds, “…to many of us inside and outside of the police profession this flag symbolizes a commitment to public service up to and including laying down one’s own life to protect the lives of others. We do not condone the behavior and use of the flag at partisan political rallies or during the riots at the United States Capitol. The use of this flag for these events creates a terrible image for police and our nation.”
The document was signed by Magnus, Pfister and Bradley R. Bowen, Oconomowoc fire chief.
They stated that at no time has Mayor Magnus “stated that he feels these flags are racist, threatening or offensive. He has received complaints from others with concerns that flags other than the American, State, or City Flags should not be flown outside of public buildings for a variety of reasons.”
The document states that Magnus is a “supporter of law enforcement” and adds that the mayor “has spent significant time learning about both our professions.”
Read this document in full here: Police and Fire Honorary Flags in City