A recruiting vehicle for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office bears a Spartan helmet with a Thin Blue Line flag on it. The Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board is questioning whether that’s appropriate. (Courtesy of Bernalillo County)
Copyright © 2022
Are images of wolves and Spartan helmets overlaid with “Thin Blue Line” flags and slogans on Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office recruiting vehicles likely to attract the type of person the community wants to serve as peace officers?
Is it appropriate for BCSO to be featured on – and promoting – the for-profit reality television show “On Patrol: Live”?
The Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board will tackle both of these questions at its monthly meeting Friday. It is inviting the public to comment and the sheriff’s office will have a representative present to answer questions.
After hearing about the issues, SOARB Chairman Tommy Jewell said he’s worried that the sheriff’s office might be using “symbology that’s offensive in a diverse community like ours.”
“We’re at a pivotal place,” said Jewell, a retired metro and state district judge. “We’re less than a month away from an election so it’s a perfect time for the community to ask: ‘What do we want the sheriff’s office to look like?’ ‘What do we want the next sheriff to stand for?’”
Jayme Fuller, a BCSO spokeswoman, said the department always welcomes input from the public.
She said it hasn’t received any “formal negative complaints” from the community regarding BCSO’s participation in “On Patrol: Live” and she said the images on the vehicles were created by cadet classes.
Floyd Vasquez, a county spokesman, said he brought both matters to the nine-member board after seeing posts on Twitter.
A citizen had posted photos of BCSO’s recruiting vehicle asking what was going on and calling the Spartan helmet with the Thin Blue Line flag “especially egregious.” Some have posited that Spartan imagery has been appropriated by white supremacy groups.
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Fuller said the images on the recruiting vehicles represent camaraderie and the Roman numerals signify the cadet class number.
“It is a built-in tradition to have each cadet class create a ‘guidon,’ which displays their class symbol,” Fuller wrote in an email. “The cadets represent our community and come from various and diverse backgrounds. We would never promote any symbolism that may cause division in the community we serve.”
As for “On Patrol: Live” – a show on REELZ that films deputies at work and broadcasts with little time delay – Vasquez questioned whether the show could be distracting to deputies and therefore present a liability to the county.
The Albuquerque Police Department had participated in “COPS,” a forerunner to shows such as “On Patrol: Live,” before Mayor Martin Chávez banned it in 2001.
BCSO began participating in “COPS” in 2014. “COPS” went off the air in the wake of the racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd but returned in October 2021 on Fox Nation.
Over the past several months, BCSO has been promoting “On Patrol: Live” on Twitter saying things like: “Our guys are staying busy tonight! #oplive #OPLiveNation I’m sure everyone is wondering if these suspects are going to come out of the house or if they will need a little extra encouragement… #stolenvehicles #guns #felons.”
According to its website, producers for “On Patrol: Live” reached out to a diverse set of departments across the country when choosing participants. The departments involved do not get paid by the producers except for a “nominal insignia fee,” which involves paying the local government for the rights to air an agency’s name or logo.
Fuller said BCSO has received overwhelming support on social media about being on “On Patrol: Live.”
“It has served as a humanistic portrayal of the job and humanizes each citizen who wears the badge in service of our community,” Fuller said. “We seek to highlight the professional and dedicated work our deputies do every day.”
The Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board was created in September 2020. Its purpose is to “improve public transparency and accountability” with BCSO by providing opportunities for public discussion and for the analysis of the department’s policies and practices. It is not on an oversight board and its findings are not binding.