Calgary police union ‘reluctantly’ orders officers to remove thin blue line from uniforms

The Calgary Police Association has “reluctantly” ordered its members to remove thin blue line patches from their street uniforms while declaring victory in other areas of bargaining with the police commission, CBC News has learned.

The Calgary Police Commission initially asked officers to remove the patches starting March 31. But the union representing more than 2,000 members pushed back, sending out patches and pins and issuing a directive to defy the order.

CBC News has obtained a copy of an email sent to executives by association president Johnny Orr in which he rescinds the union’s recommendation to wear the controversial symbol after several town hall meetings and consultation with lawyers.

“We reluctantly recommend that you remove the TBL [thin blue line] patches and respect [the commission’s] order,” writes Orr.

“While we know removing the patch is a tough pill to swallow, we believe you have had several ‘victories’.”

Ceremonial uniforms, plainclothes officers

These “victories” include the possibility of keeping the patches on the uniforms “to show the memory of the dead on these occasions”. It’s an acknowledgment, says Orr, that the patch is “not a symbol of hate.”

“We would be the first major police department in the country to do so, and in turn, we would be paving the way for every police department in the country to follow suit.”

The police association said while it still “vehemently” disagreed with the commission’s decision on the patch, the grace period to enforce compliance is running out.

“We firmly believe that if we continue to openly defy the order, discipline will prevail,” said Orr, who explained that discipline would likely lead to suspensions and other “hardships” and could have an impact. on the patrol.

“Endangering the safety of Calgarians, which none of us are prepared to do,” the association president wrote.

The symbol has ties to white nationalist movements

For many police officers, the Canadian flag crest crossed out with a thin blue line is a way of honoring police officers who have died in the line of duty. It is particularly poignant in Calgary following the 2020 death of Sgt. Andrew Harnett.

But during its consultation process over the past year, the commission found that the patch evoked deep and negative feelings on the part of some members of the community, having been linked to white nationalist movements and used during of counter-protests against the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the commission’s March order was about more than the patch. It pushed tensions to boiling point between the commission and the police department.

In his letter to members, Orr said the union “felt strongly” that the commission’s political interference was “playing a role in the anti-police movement.”

“Some [commission] members regularly spewed anti-police rhetoric and misinformation on social media,” Orr said of some commission members.

Concern of members of the commission slandering the police

Another gain in the negotiations from the perspective of the police association is the ongoing development of a social media policy and code of conduct for commission members so that rule breakers can be held accountable “if anyone slanders our members or the policing profession in the future.”

The meetings that have taken place between the Calgary Police Service (CPS), the police association, the executive, the commission and the association of senior officers have been productive, according to Orr, with the commission being “willing to continue the dialogue to restore the relationship”.

Com. Gian-Carlo Carra has been one of the most vocal committee members against the patch, calling it a “known symbol of hate” and suggesting that members who defied the committee’s order have a “sense of entitlement “.

Orr said it had become clear during the consultation process over the past six weeks that the commission was “firm” in its direction for the removal of the symbol from everyday uniforms.

“It was non-negotiable from their perspective,” Orr said.

But he encouraged plainclothes officers to continue wearing the thin blue pin provided by the union.

Orr says the association will continue to work with the chief and commission on the details — placement and size — involving the wearing of pins on uniforms.

Shawn Cornett, chair of the Calgary Police Commission, said at a press conference Wednesday that the commission’s directive that duty officers remove the patch remains as is.

“There are other considerations that we could discuss later, but at this stage our concern is that community members interact with service members and other members of the police service, that they are not not in a position where they’re uncomfortable,” Cornet said.

“That’s the underlying reason for our decision.”

In a separate statement to CBC News, Cornett said the commissions’ decision on the crest was “in no way an expression of lack of confidence in members of the Calgary Police Service,” and that she was not calling not question the fact that the police wear the symbol with good intentions.

At the same press conference, Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld said the service had hoped to voluntarily comply with the removal of the patch and was pleased with the developments that had taken place over the past two weeks. of talks.

While the City of Calgary funds the CPS, the commission is the body responsible for overseeing the service.

The commission gives direction to the department through the chief, who is appointed by the commission and is responsible for day-to-day operations.