According to the Calgary police chief, a recent decision by the Calgary Police Commission to require officers to remove a controversial thin blue line from their uniforms has deepened discord within the police department.
As a result, Calgary police delayed requiring officers to remove the patches for two weeks.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Mark Neufeld called the directive a breaking point, saying it had brought to light other underlying unresolved issues.
“Our members were very frankly furious at the [commission’s] decision,” Neufeld said.
“Whenever you feel something like this being forced upon you, a defensive reaction is not a surprising reaction, especially around topics that go right to the level of your values and the core of your identity.”
For some members of the Calgary police, the crest, which shows a thin blue line running through a representation of the Canadian flag, is seen as a way of remembering fallen police 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 they could no longer wear thin blue patches on their uniforms from 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 wearing the patch.
Neufeld said enforcement of the removal of the symbol would be delayed for two weeks from Tuesday, to have further discussions with members of the force and the commission, which is the independent civilian body that provides oversight. of the font.
He added that police morale was at an all-time low and that narratives surrounding the meaning of the thin blue line had been unfairly simplified.
“Removing the crests from uniforms is one thing, but completely vilifying the symbol and its meaning to our people…is another.”
Police commission launches review
Last year, the police commission launched a review of officers’ use of the patch. The review included conversations with multiple groups, including the city’s two police associations, police department leadership, Beyond the Blue, an organization that supports families of local police officers, the Anti-Racism Action Committee of the police service and the community advisory councils of the police service.
In a statement on Tuesday, the commission said its decision on the patch was based on “various interpretations of what the symbol represents to members of our community.”
“It was never a question of whether the police wore the symbol with good intentions, it was a decision made because the meaning of the symbol 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 would 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 it symbolizes,” Cornish said. “[They] I really want that one thing to go away.”
“But then you have the police force where there are positives that they see, maybe looking back at some of their former members and people that they’ve lost.”
Cornish added that he thought there was an opportunity to further explore what the Thin Blue Line patch really meant.
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 Political Studies at Mount Royal University, said that although the Thin Blue Line symbol has been used during Black Lives Matter counter-protests in the United States, he was unable to find any similar items. examples of its use in Canada.
“The [police commission’s] decisions must be made in an evidence-based, well-researched and well-articulated manner, and not in loose innuendos of the symbol being used in an American context and then suggesting that it is a hate symbol,” said Sunderland.
He’s also worried that too much focus on the Thin Blue Line patch could hurt other conversations about police reform.
“We need to talk about how police can select officers so we can have more diversity in policing,” Sunderland said.
“Let’s get to the root causes of the problems.”
Chief hopes police will comply
Neufeld said he hopes voluntary compliance for patch removal will be achieved in the coming weeks.
He added that while creating a new symbol is a possibility, “trust relationships are not there right now to go that route.”
The commission acknowledged that compliance within the force would take time and that it would take efforts to improve its engagement with officers to remedy any loss of trust.
Although the City of Calgary provides funding for the police, the commission is the body responsible for overseeing the service. And although the chief is responsible for day-to-day operations, the commission gives direction to the department through the chief, who is appointed by the commission.
The Calgary Police Association did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.