An order to remove the thin blue-line patches worn by Calgary police officers over concerns they are racially divisive will be rejected, the chief of their union said Wednesday.
That vow came minutes after the Calgary Police Commission released a public statement saying that in the interest of racial harmony, officers are expected to drop the guns from their uniforms by the end of March.
“People in our community have clearly stated that the thin blue line on police officers makes them uncomfortable because of its history and current use by groups opposing racial equality,” committee chair Shawn Cornett said in a statement.
“As the police evolves, so should the symbols. Stopping the use of a symbol that undermines some Calgarians’ trust in the police is the right thing to do.”
The commission said the patch, which consists of a Canadian flag crossed by a horizontal blue bar, is seen by police and many in the community as a symbol of respect for fallen officers and solidarity within the ranks.
And while a year-long consultation process heard just that, it also raised concerns about the patch that would act as a symbol of resistance to the racial equality movement.
Critics at the top say this has become especially true since the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“Support for the positive things the thin blue line represents was unanimous, with some participants expressing concerns about the impact of the symbol’s alternative meanings in the community,” the committee said.
But the head of the Calgary Police Association, which represents uniformed members, said he encourages officers to continue wearing the patch, calling the commission’s decision misguided.
“There will be resistance to removing this patch, it is an important symbol. † † There is a lot of support for this symbol,” said union chairman John Orr.
He said Calgary officers wore the patch before the Black Lives Matter movement was galvanized by Floyd’s murder and that its significance to its members as a nod to the fallen and support for each other runs deep.
And he said the removal order is particularly sensitive given the recent murder of Sgt. Andrew Harnett on New Year’s Eve 2020.
“The timing of this is bad. We are still witnessing legal proceedings over the murder of one of our own people,” Orr said.
It also comes after an employee survey published last November found police morale to be at its lowest in a decade, with just 19 percent of respondents saying sentiment is good, up from 36 percent in 2020.
“I don’t think that directive will help morale in any way,” Orr said.
While he called the commission’s decision binding, Orr said he expects many officers to continue wearing the patch, and it’s up to Chief Mark Neufeld to determine the ramifications.
In a statement Wednesday, Neufeld said he is fully confident that the patch was worn by his officers with the best of intentions, but that outside concerns should be taken into account.
“We have pledged to listen and amplify racialized voices, and while we are committed to doing so, I also recognize how disappointing this decision will be for many of our officers. For them, as for me, this symbol is very meaningful and personal,” said Neufeld.
The police commission said it has invited the Police Association and the Calgary Police Senior Officers Association to help design a replacement patch, though noting that neither union has agreed to participate.
“Officials in our city have an incredibly difficult job and we owe them a great debt of gratitude,” Cornett said.
“We hope we can work with agents and their families to create a suitable replacement. † † so that the positive things it represents are not lost.”
But Orr said negative perceptions of the police among some members of the police commission, whom he declined to name, make that prospect a vague one.
“We don’t feel that a redesign in conjunction with the CPA can now happen without completely losing the meaning of (the patch),” he said. “There’s not enough trust in this relationship.”
In a summary of the patch’s history, the committee said it dates back to the Crimean War of the 1850s and has noble roots that indicate mutual support, but that it is also identified with a regressive police stance during US race riots in the 1960s and the aftermath of the Floyd murder.
“Even when police officers wearing the patch are not intended to support racist views, the connection to recent events and the symbol’s visually divisive image has an impact on people of color and others who are unsure which of its many different meanings. has an agent. trying to express,” the committee said.
Given those conflicting perceptions, the committee’s decision was clearly the right one, Ward 8 Coun said. Courtney Walcott, who sits on the body.
“Removing symbols that have roots in colonialism, which have been co-opted by extremists who oppose the commitment to anti-racism made by the city and the CPS, was an easy decision that should have happened much earlier,” he said.
Orr acknowledged that the decal has been adopted by some far-right extremists, but added, “those people don’t share our values.”
— With files by Stephanie Babych