Mount Prospect trustees vote to have police patch with thin blue line removed
With a tally that reflected the division within the community, the Mount Prospect village board decided narrowly Tuesday night to order the police department patch with a thin blue line eliminated from officers' uniforms.
The vote was 4-3.
"They can tear our patch off our arm, but they will never take what's in our heart," police Chief John Koziol said. "The men and women of the Mount Prospect Police Department will always honor our fallen brothers and sisters in law enforcement."
Trustees Peggy Pissarreck, Colleen Saccotelli, Augie Filippone, and Terri Gens were in the majority, while Trustees John Matuszak and Richard Rogers and Mayor Paul Hoefert said they wanted to keep the patch.
The uniform patch has a design resembling the black-and-white American flag with a single blue stripe. Police and the patch's supporters say the "thin blue line" honors law enforcement officers who've died in the line of duty. But opponents maintain that the imagery has been co-opted by extremist groups, and its use by the police departments is intimidating to people of color.
The issue was thrust into the national spotlight in June when Koziol and two officers appeared on Fox News to defend the patch.
Matuszak said he disagrees with comparisons made between the blue lives matter flag and Nazi or Ku Klux Klan symbols, saying his grandmother died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Although it was present on Jan. 6 and in Charlottesville, "there is absolutely no history that the blue lives matter patch was developed to encourage racism, segregation or white supremacy," he said.
In an emotional speech, Saccotelli said the blue line flag has been used by "some bad actors in some of the most horrendous times in our most recent history."
"Meanings and symbols can change," saying there was no bad intent on the part of police when they chose the patch. "Mount Prospect does not exist in a vacuum. We are influenced by events and actions outside of our town. When our symbol meanings change, we must adapt to better serve our customers, all the people of Mount Prospect."
Rogers disagreed with dropping the patch.
"There is a group that have a political agenda to defund the police or corrupt our criminal justice system. There is no place in Mount Prospect for partisan politics," he said. "This board is here to govern the village of Mount Prospect. It is not here to make political statements. It is not here to support cancel culture."
But Gens said asking for a patch redesign does not mean lack of support for our police force, and messages saying otherwise have "encouraged misplaced anger."
"I have only heard residents support and praise our police force when asking for the blue lives matter symbol to be changed," she said.
The board's action came after village board members heard from both sides of the issue inside and outside village hall.
Koziol began the meeting by defending keeping the patch.
"To say that this flag is a symbol of hate is a slap in the face to all law enforcement officers and their loved ones that look upon this symbol with reverence," Koziol said.
But Pissarreck questioned Koziol.
"Can you tell us why something that hadn't been used at Charlottesville wasn't selected?" she asked.
Koziol said he was not chief at the time police officers voted in favor of the current patch, but he said the margin was 2-1 in favor when choosing between that patch and the old one.
"What I don't get is why we let one racist hater (in Charlottesville) change the meaning of something that means so much to us?" Koziol said. "If you start letting those people do that, they have taken over."
Pissarreck responded, "Well, Hitler did that."
After Koziol concluded his presentation, the board heard from 61 residents who registered to speak, including former Trustee William Grossi, who supported the current patch.
"It is not a racist symbol and has never been talked about in those terms except by a small group of individuals," Grossi said.
Patch opponents such as Mount Prospect resident Linda Waycie said the patch has been co-opted by white supremacists. "The current police officer patch needs to be immediately removed and a redesign of the patch needs to display a symbol that all Mount Prospect minority and majority residents support," Waycie said.
The division in the community over the patch showed in competing rallies outside village hall before the meeting.