ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Police Officers' Association has urged its members to use a controversial symbol on their social media pages to show solidarity with officers who are now under investigation for using a similar image online.
The union's president, Ed Clark, posted a letter late Wednesday on the organization's Facebook page, asking members to use the "Blue Line Punisher" image as their profile picture on social media. The union represents about 1,200 officers; the union's Facebook site has more than 14,000 followers.
The image depicts a white skull modified with a blue line flag. The skull is taken from "The Punisher," a Marvel Comics character created in 1974 by writer Gerry Conway. The Punisher is a vigilante who uses violent means to combat crime. The blue line flag -- a black-and-white U.S. flag with a blue stripe -- is intended to convey support for law enforcement.
Added to the image promoted by Clark is the number 6265, which is the Designated Service Number that belonged to former St. Louis Police Officer Michael Langsdorf who was killed in the line of duty last month. Langsdorf's family declined to comment through a spokesman.
Clark's recommendation was sharply criticized by another St. Louis police organization, the Ethical Society of Police, whose membership consists primarily of black officers from St. Louis city and county police departments. "Under no circumstances" should officers use that image, the organization's president, St. Louis Police Sgt. Heather Taylor, said in an email to members.
Late Thursday, St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden issued a department-wide memo on the matter. He did not tell officers not to post the image, but urged officers to be mindful of how their communications are perceived by the public.
It read, in part: "Although fictional in nature, the Punisher logo does not coincide with our mission to protect life and property and achieve a peaceful society. ... While social media can be an asset in continuing relations with family, friends and colleagues, we all must remain cognizant of the messages certain posts may send and the interpretation the community may have of them."
The controversy over social media communications by officers follows the release last month of a report by the Plain View Project, which identified officers in eight cities, including St. Louis, who had posted racist, sexist or otherwise offensive posts.
In St. Louis, the group cited about 22 current officers for their social media habits, including those who posted the Punisher image.
Emily Baker-White of the Plain View Project said that while the Punisher image "doesn't have a racist connotation, it does have a problematic connotation."