Editor’s Note: The following information is on display along side the patches at the O’Neill Police Department.
The term is derived from the Thin Red Line, a formation of 93rd Highland Regiment of Foot of the British Army at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, in which the Highlanders stood their ground against a Russian calvary charge during Crimean War.
The first known use of the phrase "thin blue line" is from a 1911 poem by Nels Dickmann Anderson titled "The Thin Blue Line." In the poem, the phrase is used to refer to the U.S. Army, alluding to the Thin Red Line, and to the fact that U.S. Army soldiers wore blue uniforms from the 18th century through the 19th century.
In the 1950s, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bill Parker used the phrase in the department-produced television show of the same name. Parker coined the term "Thin Blue Line" to further reinforce the role of LAPD. As Parker explained, the thin blue line, representing LAPD, was the barrier between law-and-order and social and civic anarchy.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. wear distinctive shoulder patches on their uniforms. Patch designs generally feature local historical places, events, important dates or a motto. These single pieces of cloth tell a story and impress on each officer that they serve all.
This growing display of shoulder patches from law enforcement agencies from around the U.S. and world serves to remind us that all officers form the Thin Blue Line. No matter the design worn on our shirts, we are all brothers.
The U.S. police force is a relatively modern invention sparked by changing notions of public order, driven in turn by economics and politics.
Policing in Colonial America had been very informal, based on a for-profit, privately funded system that employed people part-time. Communities also commonly relied on "night watch" in which volunteers signed up for a certain day and time. Boston started its night watch in 1636, New York followed in 1658 and Philadelphia created one in 1700.
Philadelphia created the first day-watch in 1833. The first publicly funded, organized police force with full-time officers on duty was created in Boston in 1838, New York City in 1845, Albany, NY, and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855 and Newark, NJ, and Baltimore in 1857. By the 1880s all major U.S. cities had municipal polices forces in place.