Years ago my dad, a Chicago police officer, would bring home a copy of the monthly Chicago Police Star – an official publication of the Chicago Police Department. Looking back at copies saved online, they were great for intradepartmental communication and shared best practices in crime fighting, community relations and training. The publication even had a find-a-word puzzle toward the back that I always enjoyed. A section titled The Blue Light was specifically for district and unit news – anything and everything from congratulations for a good arrest to notices of upcoming social events to condolences for department members or their family members who had died.

A Longtime Chicago Police Symbol

Back in those days a single blue light with a rotating beacon was the visible sign of a Chicago Police Department patrol vehicle. Those blue lights were sometimes referred to as “gumballs” since they resembled gumball machines, which were located all over back in the day. They were in use for many years, and at least as far back as 1948, when these blue lights became a Chicago Police Department means of attracting attention for a variety of reasons, most often to conduct a traffic stop.

It seems people readily associate police with the color blue, and not just for their uniforms but for their patrol vehicles as well. The evolution of the single rotating beacon gave way to today’s modern police patrol vehicle light bars. Even though the single rotating beacon blue light is not used by the Chicago Police Department these days,  a blue light bar is used – keeping  the tradition of the blue light alive.

The blue light has morphed into another function for law enforcement and public safety – one that also seeks to gain attention and to identify a police presence. In 2003, the Chicago Police Department deployed blue light cameras throughout the City of Chicago. These white boxes with blinking blue lights attached to telephone and light poles stand out where positioned. The blue light cameras, sometimes referred to as Police Observational Devices (PODs), were envisioned as a preventive tool against crime. Whether blue light cameras actually prevent crime is being debated. I suppose it depends on where you live. Would a street corner drug operation set up under one of them? Probably not. So, the question may be – do blue light cameras enhance the quality of life in some neighborhoods? The answer is probably yes.

A Local Reminder

Just before the national election this year, I found myself traveling home one evening after dark. As I proceeded down the normally dimly lit street by my home, I noticed several houses with a single blue light outside where white lights once shined. These lights were no brighter than the typical white lights, so I doubted they were there to better illuminate the residence. These lights were noticeable however – similar to the bright glow of the blue gumball lights from years ago. At first I didn’t think much about it. Then I passed by a neighbor’s home. It, too, had a blue light where a white light once shined. By the time I reached my home it made sense.

My neighbor’s house, the one with the blue light shining, was the home of two police officers, both of whom had nearly 50 years of service combined in the communities they served. They are great neighbors. Their kids played with my kids. They attended the neighborhood block parties. They are just great folks.  Needless to say, the other homes on my street displayed the blue light for the same reason my neighbors did. It was to draw attention, in a very simple but visible way, to our nation’s law enforcement officers, no doubt to support them everywhere.

Isn’t it amazing what a simple blue light can do? Blue isn’t the greatest color for visual perception but it works just fine for things that really matter.

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