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Backing the Blue

North Liberty artist honors law enforcement with “Thin Blue Line” paintings

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– It’s not an easy time to be in law enforcement.
Some feel there’s a “war on cops,” with assaults and outright ambushes seemingly on the rise. Ninety-nine officers have died in the line of duty as of Monday, Oct. 10, and there will undoubtedly be more as well over 100 officers are killed on average every year.
Supporters of law enforcement officers (LEOs) have taken to displaying a thin blue line: a simple blue line symbolizing cops standing between the civil society and chaos; law and order vs. lawlessness; prey and predator.
Shawn Grimm knows first hand the challenges and sacrifices of LEOs and their families. Grimm, an amateur artist living in North Liberty, is the son of a retired officer from Missouri.
“I’ve always had friends that worked in law enforcement,” he said. “They’d stop by and play basketball with us when we were out on the court, I went to school with their kids. I just grew up making friends with them.”
As a young adult living in Iowa City, Grimm’s friendship extended to members of the Iowa City Police Departmnet.
“I would visit with them, have coffee with them,” he said.
He wanted to be a cop himself, but health issues prevented it. Instead he’s made it his personal mission to assist LEOs whenever possible, including calling in whenever he spots suspicious activities.
While living in North Liberty, Grimm has also made friends with the officers of the North Liberty Police Department (NLPD). An officer-involved shooting in 2013 shook him to his core even though both officers survived the deadly encounter.“I got more close, supportive, because they might not have gone to the hospital, they might’ve gone to the morgue,” he said.
In March 2013, Officer (now Sgt.) Chris Shine, Sgt. Adam Olson and Ofc. Cody Jacobsen responded to a domestic disturbance in the Holiday Mobile Home Park. Shine, who exchanged gunfire with Taleb Salameh, was injured with at least two bullet wounds despite wearing a ballistic vest. Sgt. Olson was also struck by a bullet, which lodged in his vest and Jacobsen discovered bullet holes in his uniform.
Salameh was killed in the exchange.
All three officers were cleared of any wrong doing and later received numerous awards including the “Top Cops” award from the National Association of Police Organizations, the NLPD’s Medal of Valor and Lifesaving Award, and Sgt. Shine also received the National Rifle Association’s “Officer of the Year” award in 2013 through the organization’s Law Enforcement Division.
Another incident, in Ferguson, Mo., a year later also rattled Grimm. Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in an incident that touched off riots and elevated Brown to martyr status. Wilson was cleared in multiple investigations, including one conducted by the Federal Department of Justice. However, unlike Sgt. Shine and his colleagues, Wilson was not hailed as a hero and has since left law enforcement in St. Louis County.
After the Ferguson incident, Grimm said, “everybody started putting down peace officers and basically making them all be the ‘bad guy’ and hating every one of them when they did not do nothing wrong.”
Although, he doesn’t automatically support every shooting by an officer.
“Some of the shootings, even I question them,” he admitted. “But there’s a lot of them out there that’s been justified. But yet there’s people that make them (the cop) the bad person, when they’re just trying to get home to their family.”
He believes some of the officer-involved shootings may have actually been what is referred to as “suicide by cop.”
“You do not pull out a BB gun and point it at a cop and act like you’re all big and bad and want to kill them, because they’re (the officers) gonna turn around and shoot you,” he said. “But yet, there’s people that still believe they’re the bad guys.”
For example, Grimm pointed to the murder by a sniper of five Dallas police officers and the wounding of seven more, as a response to an officer-involved shooting in Minnesota.
“They were just standing there…and picked off, like sitting ducks. But yet, people make them the bad guys because of the incident in Minnesota,” he said, referring to a July 2016 incident where a St. Paul, Minn. Officer shot Philando Castile. “He (Castile) told him he had a permit (to carry a weapon), and the officer told him not to move and he was moving around.”
Grimm feels LEOs are being targeted, and by extension, firefighters and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers as well.
“With everything happening, I might as well show my support to show that there are people out here that will stand behind you, and will support you. They need to know that. If they don’t know that there’s people out there that trust them, stand behind them when needed, and want them around…they’re not gonna come around and be friendly. They’re not gonna wanna talk to nobody.”
He added it seems like officers now are keeping a much lower profile at times.
“And it’s understandable,” he said. The officers around here don’t have the ego issues like some of the departments out there. They’re very friendly when you get to know them.”
Grimm said he’s noticed even after an officer shooting that officers want to continue doing their jobs.
“They’re not going to let fear get to them. So we, as the people of the community, we need to show our support,” he said.
Grimm is showing his support through a series of paintings, which include the thin blue line. He has created a memorial tribute piece in honor of the five Dallas officers and is working on a painting for the NLPD that features their officer-designed logo shoulder patch.
When completed Grimm will present it to the NLPD for display. Police Chief Diane Venenga is eagerly anticipating the piece.
“We really appreciate the support and thoughtfulness of Shawn creating artwork for this department,” she said. “I know that he has taken some time to recreate the detail in our police patch. It will proudly be displayed at our department.”
The Chief said people have found multiple ways of showing their support for the officers.
“We receive more ‘thank you’ and ‘thanks for your service’ in several interactions and conversations in public,” she said.
Local students and daycares have created individualized drawings and/or posters, she noted, and even dropped off cookies for the officers. Local businesses, organizations and citizens have also shown they “back the Blue” by dropping off meals, subs, donuts, cupcakes and other baked goods.
“We have been provided a meal by the North Liberty Optimist Club,” Venenga said. “This was left at the department and officers could heat it up during their shift.”
She added the department received several positive comments on a public survey, which was up on the department’s website in September.
“Citizens have also taken the time to send an email, small note and even phone calls to the department thanking the officers for their service,” the Chief added.
“The written documents are posted in the department, so the officers can see that positive reminder from our community,” she said “If a thank you is to an individual officer for going above and beyond, that is documented and a special thank you is sent to the officer, their immediate supervisor, and I share that with the City Administrator and City Council.”
Several members of the community also voiced their appreciation and support at a September community forum.
“It was very nice to hear, and it truly is our pleasure to serve this community,” Venenga said. “Our efforts and this department’s success are dependent upon this community. We appreciate all of the support that has been shown, and we will continue to work hard to make sure North Liberty is a safe place to live, work and play.”
In addition to creating artistic tributes to LEOs, Grimm plans to eventually also honor firefighters and EMS personnel.
“I’m gonna continue to do my art to show that there’s people that will support LEOs, so don’t be afraid to help them,” he added.

To see Shawn Grimm’s artwork: https://sites.google.com/site/moshesthinlineart/
To support his efforts to honor law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS personnel: https://www.gofundme.com/supportthinlineart.