'Back the Blue' billboard

An artistic rendering shows what the “Back the Blue” billboard would look like on Range Line Road in Joplin. Courtesy | David Lewis

A “Back the Blue” billboard is expected to be put up along Range Line Road in Joplin this summer as a show of support for local law enforcement.

David Lewis of Joplin is working in partnership with other community members to fund the project. The group has raised more than $3,100 in public and anonymous donations.

The billboard will feature an American flag with a thin blue line in the background and the words “Back the Blue.” The goal is to have it put up in the next few weeks.

Lewis said he believes the billboard is a way to show appreciation for those who work in law enforcement.

“I’m just an average citizen who supports the local law enforcement,” Lewis said. “With all of the stuff that’s been going on across the country recently, we wanted to show our support for them. It’s to show that they’re cared for and there are people here to support them. We joined the effort about two weeks ago.”

The billboard would be the second placed by residents in recent weeks on Range Line to promote awareness of social issues. Joplin for Justice, a local group that formed after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, recently funded a billboard near 12th Street and Range Line that reads, “I can’t breathe.” Backers of that billboard said the message highlights injustice toward people of color in the criminal justice system.

Lewis said his group isn’t placing a billboard as a response to any other group. He believes it’s a good use of money because law enforcement will drive by the sign and can show their families or friends that they’re cared for.

“It’s a positive effort,” he said. “We’re not trying to do anything against anyone else.”

Lewis and his wife, Kari, said they were determined to contribute to the effort while taking a 14-week Citizens Police Academy course with the Joplin Police Department. Lewis said it was an eye-opening experience to see firsthand what police officers go through on a given day. The couple completed the academy — which covers types of investigations, use-of-force tactics, DWI enforcement, the K-9 unit, SWAT operations and more — this month.

“My wife and I were talking about what we could do to show our support, and we thought about the billboard,” Lewis said. “We found someone who already started that, so we just combined our efforts and started raising money to get it put up locally. It’s not going to say ‘Joplin,’ but it will encompass all of the area law enforcement. This is close to me because they have such a tough job. The academy was an experience that made us want to get this going a little more.”

Organizers aim to have the billboard up for as long as they can raise the funds for the project. It will cost approximately $1,500 per month.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.