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S.L. police see red — and white and blue

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Terrorism brought the American flag back in vogue in 2001.

In 2003, all it might take is an e-mail from one Salt Lake police officer.

Officer Thomas Potter, whose Army Reserve unit has been called up to join the war on terrorism, sent out an e-mail Thursday night telling how he was recently berated by someone in his own department for having American flag stickers on both sides of his patrol car. In his e-mail, Potter said he was "grilled in a despicable tone" and told the stickers could be "offensive to the public."

Potter's e-mail didn't name names, but by Friday it had been widely circulated throughout the Salt Lake City Police Department. The incident has created a firestorm of e-mail responses expressing support for Potter's patriotic display.

"I think I have 40 e-mails or more," said Salt Lake Police Capt. Scott Atkinson. It caused a furor, he said.

Much of the scuttlebutt surrounding the alleged incident suggests many aren't happy with whoever flogged the flag.

"The huddled masses are gathering," said one officer who wished to remain anonymous. "There are a lot of people that are really hot about this."

Maybe that's why Potter, employed in the department for 3 1/2 years, has refused to divulge the person's name to police administrators investigating the incident.

"The police department does not have a policy against putting flags on your car," Atkinson said. "For someone to come out and say it's not authorized would be maybe a little premature."

Bumper stickers are prohibited on Salt Lake police cars, but officers displaying American flags on their cruisers are fairly common, especially since the swell of patriotism surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

"We fly the American flag on top of our police station," Salt Lake officer Derek Dimond said. "It's a symbol that we represent. After Sept. 11 nobody said anything to anyone. I've seen police cars throughout the valley with American flag stickers."

And now, there may be a few more of Salt Lake City's fleet flying Old Glory.

"I've got four on mine this morning," Dimond said Friday.

Even some civilian employees have put flags on their own cars in response to Potter's e-mail.

"The real kicker about this whole thing," Dimond said, "is we're talking about a guy who's taking a pay cut, leaving his family and putting his job on hold to go serve his country."

Potter is one of about 20 Salt Lake police officers who also serve in the military. About eight of those are currently on active duty, Atkinson said.

In his e-mail, Potter said he'd removed the flags from his car after his confrontation with the unnamed individual. Without a name, Atkinson said an inquiry into the incident is essentially over.

"I guess we'll just see how many American flags show up on cars," Atkinson said. "There's a lot of patriotism coming out of this — that's for sure."

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com