Calgary police to delay removal of thin blue line patches, citing internal discord

A recent decision by the Calgary Police Commission to require officers to remove a controversial thin blue line patch from their uniforms has deepened discord within the police service, according to Calgary’s police chief.

As a result, Calgary police have delayed by two weeks a requirement that officers remove the patches.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Mark Neufeld referred to the directive as a breaking point, saying it had brought to the surface other unresolved, underlying issues. 

“Our members were quite frankly incensed by the [commission’s] decision,” said Neufeld. 

“Any time you feel like something like this is thrust upon you, a defensive reaction is not a surprising reaction, especially around topics that go right to the level of your values and right to the heart of your identity.”

For some members of the Calgary police, the patch, which shows a thin blue line running through a depiction of the Canadian flag, is seen as a way to remember fallen officers. But the symbol has also become associated with white supremacy, an interpretation that led to the commission’s review of its use in the first place. 

The commission told officers that they would no longer be able to wear thin blue line patches on their uniforms beginning March 31.

In response, the Calgary Police Association, which represents more than 2,000 Calgary police officers, told its members to defy the commission’s order, and continue to wear the patch.

Neufeld said enforcement of the symbol’s removal would be delayed two weeks starting Tuesday, in order to have further discussions with members of the force and the commission, which is the independent civilian body that provides police oversight. 

He added that police force morale was at an “all time low” and that narratives surrounding the meaning behind the thin blue line patch had been unfairly simplified. 

“Removing patches from the uniforms is one thing, but completely vilifying the symbol and its meaning to our people … is very much another.”

Police commission launches review

Last year, the police commission launched a review of the patch’s use by officers. The review included conversations with several groups, including the city’s two police associations, the police service’s leadership, Beyond the Blue, an organization that supports local police families, the police service’s Anti-Racism Action Committee, and the police service’s community advisory boards.

In a statement released Tuesday, the commission said its ruling on the patch had been based on “diverse interpretations of what the symbol represents to members of our community.”

“This has never been a question of whether police officers are wearing the symbol with good intentions, it was a decision taken because the symbol’s meaning is mixed and lands differently on a significant number of people in our city,” said commission chair Shawn Cornett.

Jon Cornish, president of the Calgary Black Chambers said in the near future, it will be important to understand the arguments on both sides of the issue.

“I think it’s one of those situations where the community, you know, is pretty solid in their opinion of what this symbolizes,” said Cornish. “[They] really want this one thing gone.”

“But then you have the police force where there are positives that they see, maybe thinking back to some of their former members and people they’ve lost.”

Cornish added that he believes there is an opportunity for further exploration into what the Thin Blue Line patch truly signifies. 

The community is pretty solid in their opinion of what this symbolizes.– Jon Cornish, president of  the Calgary Black Chambers

Kelly Sunderland, an associate professor in the department of economics, justice, and policy studies at Mount Royal University, said that while the Thin Blue Line symbol was used at Black Lives Matter counter-protests in the United States, he’s been unable to find similar instances of its use in Canada. 

“The [police commission’s] decisions must be made in an evidence based, well-researched and well articulated manner, not in loose innuendos of the symbol being used in an American context and then suggesting that it’s a hate symbol,” said Sunderland. 

He’s also concerned that too much focus on the Thin Blue Line patch could detract from other conversations about police reform. 

“We need to talk about how police can select officers so we can have increased diversity in policing,” said Sunderland. 

“Let’s get to the root causes of issues.”

Chief hopes police comply

Neufeld said it is his hope voluntary compliance with the patch’s removal will be achieved in the coming weeks.

He added that while the creation of a new symbol is a possibility, “the relationships of trust aren’t there right now to go down that road.”

The commission acknowledged that compliance within the force would take time, and that it would take effort to improve its engagement with officers to remedy any trust lost. 

Although the City of Calgary provides the funding for the police, the commission is the body in charge of overseeing the service. And though the chief is responsible for the day-to-day operations, the commission issues directions to the service through the chief, who is appointed by the commission.

The Calgary Police Association did not respond to CBC’s request for comment. 

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