What’s the “Thin Blue Line” to You?

For Police Week, let's honor the fallen by steadfastly serving our mission

By Scott Hughes  |   May 12, 2017
Photo Courtesy St. Louis Police Foundation

When you hear a fellow officer mention “brotherhood” or “thin blue line,” what comes to mind? If you’re like most cops, you think of camaraderie, teamwork, dedication, and commitment. If those were your thoughts precisely—good!

Others, however, conjured up backstabbing, drama, B.S., more drama, and a lack of leadership. For you, I’m sorry. But I understand. Law enforcement, like most professions, has its occupational hazards. Forgetting the mission—the “why” of the profession—is chief among them. I’ve been there too. In fact, I think we all have at one time or another.

The question is, how long does the funk last? Because, make no mistake, it can be deadly.

Wake Up Call

Nothing wakes an officer from this stupor like the death of a friend or colleague. If you’ve ever buried one of your own, or someone who you knew, then you know what I mean. There’s absolutely nothing worse. The death of a police officer can bring hundreds, perhaps thousands, of police officers together. Many at the funeral never actually knew the fallen officer. That’s what brotherhood and thin blue line is all about, and why I love this work: the camaraderie.

Now, fast forward two or three years past that terrible day where we laid the hero to rest. Where are we now? What’s the atmosphere inside the agency? Have we found ourselves badmouthing our colleagues? Are we complaining about things outside of our control? Are we so caught up in the B.S. that we fail to back each other up on traffic stops and other “routine” calls for service?

After burying a hero, most cops are all about taking care of each other. But it doesn’t take long before we forget where we came from and fall back into the allure of a drama-filled world of gossip.


As police memorial week quickly approaches, I have a challenge for every law enforcement officer reading this article. Forget about that nonsense out of your control and focus on what’s truly important: your community and your colleagues. Focus on the mission of public safety! Stop bad-mouthing one another. Don’t roll your eyes when the rookie makes a traffic stop 5 minutes before the end of shift, and drive towards that alarm drop, even though you “know” it’s false.

We’ve lost at least 45 brothers and sisters this year. Think about that. Let it settle in. Let it motivate and guide you in what you do during your shift.

During many of our Calibre Press seminars we ask the audience: How many deaths of police officers were possibly preventable? Unfortunately, that number is high. How, as a profession, do we allow this to happen, year after year?

Let us go into Police Memorial Week remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Let’s remember why we got into this line of work in the first place. Almost all of us wanted to help people and work within a vibrant community of first responders—the so-called brotherhood or thin blue line.

Then reality sets in.

So here’s my question: Are you part of the solution? Or part of the problem?


I know people in lots of various jobs and professions who concur that badmouthing and gossip are common across the board. Day-to-day B.S. happens. And talking smack is a little bit like taking a drug: It seems harmless at first, but fun. Pretty soon it’s par for the course. What too many officers fail to see, however, is that there’s a cost to be paid for this “fun.” Pretty soon you’ll find yourself a crusty old cynic, an addict to the smack.

Here’s the thing. The mission of this profession is too critical to support crusty old cynics in the ranks who long ago forgot why they got into this work. Remember the “why.” Do your best to improve your self and your agency. Serve the public with compassion and with valor. And remember this: Haters gonna hate. So ignore that noise and serve your mission.

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Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.