American flag design on Laguna Beach police cars causes both 'panic' and pride

The city council of Laguna Beach, Calif. is reconsidering the design recently implemented on its new police vehicles — a prominent American flag graphic — after some community members expressed shock and concern at the “aggressive” logo.

In early March, 11 Laguna Beach Police Department squad cars were rolled out. The word “police” features prominently across the side of each vehicle, painted in an Old Glory-inspired red, white and blue design. And while some in the community take pride in the patriotic look, others find it problematic.

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One resident, designer Chris Prelitz, told the Times Community News that when he and his wife first noticed the new design while dining out, it was because he saw parents and children outside “scattering” around a group of patrol cars.

There was like a little panic going on, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?'” he told the publication. “When one of [the cars is] there, it works. But all of a sudden, I saw, wow, when there are three, maybe four of them together, folks thought it was a SWAT team, federal agents. So it had a very striking, strong impact, so much so that I think there might be some unintended consequences.”

At a March 19th city council meeting, several Laguna beach residents spoke up about their resistance to the new design. Carrie Woodburn, a local artist, reportedly said it was “shocking to see the boldness of the design,” which said “felt very aggressive.”

An American flag-inspired logo emblazoned across the Laguna Beach Police Department’s newest squad cars is dividing the community. (Photo: Courtesy of Twitter/Laguna Beach Police)
An American flag-inspired logo emblazoned across the Laguna Beach Police Department’s newest squad cars is dividing the community. (Photo: Courtesy of Twitter/Laguna Beach Police)

Woodburn later clarified her opinion on Facebook, writing, “for the record, I have no objection to the black-and-white cars.” She added, “I have no issue with our American flag. My personal observation was that it felt aggressive and may not best represent our community.”

Even city council spokesperson Peter Blake told Yahoo Lifestyle that Woodburn “came out and said something that would make perfect sense otherwise,” as city council often does defer to input from artists in the community. “She didn’t realize that she would be stepping on a political landmine.”

The impetus for that landmine, according to Blake, was “a vocal minority of political activists,” whom he calls “extremists” that initially fought the new black-and-white design for police vehicles. When they lost that battle, Blake said, they went after the stars and stripes. “They even went to the American Legion to determine if it was disrespectful for the flag to be chopped up [within the letters],” Blake said.

So the city council appointed Laguna Beach police chief Laura Farinella to green light the final logo. “We trust the police chief with the safety of the community,” Blake said. “We can trust her with the decision of what police cars will look like.”

Blake told Yahoo Lifestyle that an overwhelming majority of community members are on board with the American flag logo. Attorney Jennifer Welsh Zeiter called the decorated Ford Explorers “exceptional” at the city council meeting, and said that those who vocally oppose the design are “so filled with hatred toward this … office of the president of the United States and the current occupant of that office that they cannot see through their current biases to realize that a police vehicle with the American flag is the ultimate American expression.”

Laguna Beach Police Cpl. Ryan Hotchkiss, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, spoke at the meeting to say that he has only heard positive feedback about the new vehicle he drives. “Every time I came to a stop sign, every time I came to a red light, somebody is telling me the car looks great,” Hotchkiss said. “Every one of our members that drives the car loves it, and we look forward to keeping them the way they are.”

Mayor Steve Dicterow seemed to defend the new design, implying that the logo and the new black-and-white paint job are intentionally bold.

“This is about safety,” Dicterow said. “I want anybody to see it, period.”

Community members will discuss the controversial design and try to come to a resolution at a new city council meeting scheduled for Tuesday. They’re doing so “out of an abundance of caution to address questions that have been raised about the process,” said city manager John Pietig, according to the Times Community News.

On social media, community members who support the design are encouraging others to attend the meeting in order to defend the flag. Some are simply voicing their support.

And some are publicly condemning the design.

Because of California’s Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in legislative meetings, the city council must listen to comments — both dissenting and otherwise — from the community before making a final decision on whether to keep or scrap the patriotic police car design.

Blake has no idea what the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting will be, but told Yahoo Lifestyle he thinks it will be “an absolute absurdity if we didn’t allow the flag to stand.”

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