This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Thin Blue Line and Thin Red Line flags (U.S.)

Last modified: 2020-07-04 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | police department | firefighter |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors




See also:


Thin Blue Line

[Thin Blue Line flag]
image by John Evosevic, 3 July 2002
[Thin Blue Line flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

Lately I've noticed a black - medium blue - black, arranged horizontally auto tag on many vehicles in the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
John Evosevic, 3 July 2002

The Black-Blue-Black design is usually seen on a policeman's personal car or family members car. It stands for the "thin blue line". There is also a similar one with a red strip for firemen.
Jim Popovitch, 17 August 2002

The black-medium blue-black flag is actually a police mourning band. It is typically worn as a band across the badge when an officer is killed in the line of duty. I have seen it in use more frequently now as a bumper sticker, I believe this is probably a show of respect for the police officers killed on September 11th.
Troy Corwin, 26 September 2002

This design is an identification to notify other law enforcement people that the bearer also works in law enforcement. It represents the "thin blue line, or brother police officer. The identification of fallen officers uses a badge with black tape or a black elastic band around the center. It is usually only worn when an officer dies, and is worn for up to a week after death, not everyday use.
Bob Cunningham II, 8 May 2006

It is not just a mourning flag. It's origin is vague. In its earliest form, it was used to identify police officers, as mentioned above. The "thin blue line" of protection against evil. One story I heard was that in the event of a traffic stop, it let the approaching officer know that the person in the vehicle was a cop and might have a firearm. The current use is more of support for law enforcement.
Rick Wyatt, 2 June 2015

The three equal horizontal striped flag you are referring to is the original "Police Mourning and Police Support Flag" which first appeared around 2002. This flag actually began as a police mourning arm band used in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was at first typically worn when an officer was killed in the line of duty. It stood for the "thin blue line" of police protection. It evolved into an auto sticker and finally into a flag. It was also used as a show of respect for the police officers killed on September 11 and was also seen as a variant with a red stripe instead of a blue one for fire fighters. Since then versions with much thinner blue or red stripes, combined stripes, etc. have also been reported. A variant with the text "Police Lives Matter" was used in 2015 at a rally in Baltimore, Ohio. Since the original "Thin Blue Line" flag's appearance, apparently all emergency services are getting on the bandwagon resulting in a confusing collection of similar flags and a host of variants. And yes, they have become political, as flags often do.
Pete Loeser, 10 August 2018

The flag is sometimes hoisted vertically, as shown here:

[Thin Blue Line vertical flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

The blue stripe width varies and may be somewhere between 1/5 and 1/6 of the flag width. One example is here. All variants of the Thin Blue Line Flag are made with a variety of ratios, the most frequent ones being 2:3 and 3:5.
Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

[Thin Blue Line flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 26 November 2019

Another variant of the flag was used in Vacaville, California on 2019-05-14. It was hoisted by The 100 Club of Solano & Yolo Counties, an organization formed to support the families of fallen first responders of Solano and Yolo Counties, during a ceremony honoring the law enforcement officers during National Police Week. On this flag, the blue stripe was set off-center, closer to the bottom, relative widths of three fields being in ratio 3:1:1. The flag was also visibly more oblong then usual, with the ratio of 1:2 or very close, and the shade of blue was lighter than B, but still darker than B-.

Source: TheReporter.com website: https://www.thereporter.com/2019/05/14/law-enforcement-honored-during-flag-ceremony/
Tomislav Todorovic, 26 November 2019


Thin Blue Line U.S.

[Thin Blue Line U.S. flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 2 June 2017
derived from image by Joe McMillan

The Thin Blue Line U.S. flag was created by combining The Thin Blue Line flag with the Stars and Stripes and creating a new flag. The red stripes and blue canton are black and the white stripe beneath the canton is medium blue, while the other stripes, as well as the stars, remain white. This flag seems to be manufactured only in ratio 3:5.
Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

One website offers this explanation:
"The Thin Blue Line American Flag serves as a testament to the valor of police officers across the country. The courage exhibited by officers in the line of duty is represented by the Thin Blue Line in the center of the flag. The solemn black background acts as a memorial to the lives lost while shielding citizens from anarchy."
Pete Loeser, 13 June 2016

The color pattern of the same basic design is also described with word "subdued", as seen at this online shop: https://foreverwave.com/product/3x5-usa-subdued-thin-blue-line-flag/. The photo presented there suggests a lighter shade of gray than seen at the other sites, but black also looks lighter (more like FOTW color G++, or even G+), so it is more due to picture taking conditions.
Tomislav Todorovic, 2 October 2019

[Thin Blue Line U.S. flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 2 June 2017

Another variant has only the canton and two stripes (the ones immediately above and beneath the blue stripe) in black, while the other stripes are red. Its photo can be found here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/blue-lives-matter-boycotts-ben-jerry-article-1.2829075. As can be seen, the shade of blue is lighter than on the other Thin Blue Line flags. Regarding the shade of red, it is not easy to determine, but still looks closer to R+ than R.
Tomislav Todorovic, 31 May 2017

Shade of blue can clearly vary, for there are manufacturers which use the typical medium blue, as seen here: https://m.bonanzamarket.co.uk/listings/Thin-Blue-Line-Dacron-cloth-American-Flag-Police-Lives-3x5-Foot-Metal-Grommets/654384784
Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019

[Thin Blue Line U.S. flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 23 January 2019

A third version was recently introduced, with original blue canton and red stripes changed into black and stars and white stripes changed into gray, except the stripe beneath the canton, which is blue. This is offered for sale by a number of online shops; those presenting flag photos can be visited here:
https://motoloot.com/products/street-speed-717-us-flag-thin-blue-line-5x3
https://www.walmart.com/ip/3x5-Thin-Blue-Line-Blackout-American-Flag-USA-Police-Swat-Team-Black-Out-Banner/935609232

As the latter example shows, the color pattern of basic design is described with word "blackout", which is also used by other manufacturers (none of which displays the photos, which is the reason they are not listed as the sources).
Tomislav Todorovic, 23 January 2019


Thin Red Line Flag

Thin Red Line Flag is derived from the Thin Blue Line Flag by changing the blue stripe into red, which stands for the
firefighters:

[Thin Red Line flag]
image by John Evosevic, 4 May 2016
[Thin Red Line flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

The red stripe width is typically 1/3 of the flag width, as shown here: http://www.flagcenter.com/thin-red-line-package/ and here: http://www.flagcenter.com/thin-red-line-boat-motorcycle-flag/ and the shade of red is a darker one, about the same as used in the U.S. national flag.

The flag is sometimes hoisted vertically, as shown here http://www.flagcenter.com/thin-red-line-garden-flag-stand:

[Thin Red Line vertical flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

The red stripe width may be visibly narrower, somewhere between 1/5 and 1/6 of the flag width. Such flags can be seen here http://www.flagcenter.com/thin-red-line-3-x-5-foot-indoor-parade-flag/, http://www.flagcenter.com/thin-red-line-4-x-6-indoor-parade-flag/ or http://www.amazon.com/Thin-Red-Line-Nylon-Flag/dp/B005ESG3CW.

All these flags are made with a variety of ratios, the most frequent ones being 2:3 and 3:5.

[Thin Red Line U.S. flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 2 June 2017
derived from image by Joe McMillan

The Thin Red Line Flag may be combined with the Stars and Stripes into one flag, by repainting the red stripes and blue canton into black and the white stripe beneath the canton into red, while the other stripes, as well as the stars, remain white. This flag seems to be manufactured only in ratio 3:5, as seen here: http://relentlessdefender.com/american-thin-red-line-firefighter-flag/
Tomislav Todorovic, 4 May 2016

[Thin Red Line U.S. flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019

The version with the basic pattern recolored into black (instead of blue and red) and gray (instead of white) - described as "subdued" - was recently introduced, employing the ratio of either 2:3: https://foreverwave.com/product/subdued-thin-red-line-flag/ or 3:5: https://foreverwave.com/product/3x5-usa-subdued-thin-red-line-flag/.
It is difficult to determine actual shade of gray, given that it varies from one photo to another, but so does the shade of red, and black generally looks more like very dark gray, all of that clearly depending on the picture taking conditions, consequently the real shade of gray must be darker than seen in those photos.
Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019


Thin Red/Blue Line

[Thin Red/Blue Line U.S. flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 2 June 2017
[Thin Red/Blue Line flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 15 June 2016
[Thin Red/Blue Line U.S. flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 3 April 2018
[Thin Red/Blue Line flag]Tomislav Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019

These flags support both the firefighters and the police officers.
Pete Loeser and Tomislav Todorovic, 15 June 2016

When the Thin Line is half red and half blue, red is usually at the hoist and blue at the fly. Still there are a few examples of flags with the two colors reversed. The flag with black stripe is available here: https://www.kcflag.com/product/3x5-thin-blue-red-line/. Note the position of the grommets, which reveal that blue is meant to be next to the hoist there.
Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019

[Thin Red/Blue Line U.S. flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019
[Thin Red/Blue Line flag]
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019

Versions derived from the USA national flag also exist. The one with black and white basic pattern is offered for sale here: https://www.vsvoflag.com/product/thin-bluered-line-flag-3x5-ft/. In this case, it is even easier to tell which color is meant to be at the hoist, because of the canton.

Version with "subdued" (black and gray) basic pattern is offered for sale here: https://foreverwave.com/product/3x5-usa-subdued-thin-blue-red-line-flag/ with the ratio of 3:5 and here: https://foreverwave.com/product/usa-subdued-thin-blue-red-line-flag/ with the ratio of 2:3. As with the other "subdued" Thin Line flags, the shade of gray may be discussed, but it looks darker than on the photos of other flags which, combined with typically lighter shades of other colors, including black, reveals that it is definitely a darker one here.
Tomislav Todorovic, 9 October 2019


Police Lives Matter

[Police Lives Matter flag] image by Pete Loeser, 2 June 2015

A friend reported "This weekend there was a rally in Baltimore in support of the police, at which were carried U.S. flags and one with three horizontal stripes, black-blue-black, with POLICE LIVES in white letters on the top stripe and MATTER on the bottom stripe."
Pete Loeser, 2 June 2015


In Memoriam

[Police In Memoriam flag]    [Police In Memoriam flag] image by Randy Young, 29 January 2015

I have found two police memorial flags with identical designs save for the colors used. Both flags take the form of a vertical tricolor, with the first third of the flag (closest to the hoist) either blue or purple, the middle third white, and the fly third black. Both designs feature the black outline of a generic police shield or badge with an eagle on top. The word "POLICE" appears on a banner within the shield/badge. Above the device, in black script lettering are the words "In Memoriam." I have seen both designs advertized for sale online, and have seen photographs of both designs in use, including the purple-white-black design flown at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Officers Memorial 1.bp.blogspot.com/.
Randy Young, 29 January 2015