Calgary police chief defends officers sporting ‘thin blue line’ patches after criticism

Calgary’s chief of police addressed criticisms around the “thin blue line” patch seen on some officers’ uniforms, including at an anti-mask rally in downtown Calgary on Saturday. 

At the Calgary Police Commission’s public meeting on Tuesday, chair Bonita Croft said there have been concerns raised by the public over CPS officers wearing the symbol. 

“We know that these patches have been controversial and are viewed by some as having racist connotations,” she said, asking police Chief Mark Neufeld to explain how the force is addressing this perception of the meaning of the thin blue line symbol. 

The chief said the thin blue line insignia has been a part of policing in Calgary and beyond for years. 

“The thin blue line symbolizes the ideals of justice, bravery and service to the community. It also honours our fallen brothers and sister officers,” he said. 

However, in recent years, Neufeld said it’s become very clear that insignia represents different things to different people.

“Perhaps this is because it’s also become clear that at least in the U.S., this particular symbol has been appropriated, at least to some degree, by white nationalist groups and it’s shown up at various high-profile protests and rallies where there has been racism and intolerance.”

The chief said some Canadian policing organizations recently directed officers not to display this insignia on their uniforms, and internal conversations around how CPS will handle this issue of imagery on uniforms was started but was put on hold late last year with the homicide of Sgt. Andrew Harnett.

Chief Mark Neufeld of the Calgary Police Service. (Mike Symington/CBC)

“The symbol, I would argue, is positive from the Canadian policing perspective and certainly a Calgary policing perspective and in fact, it was used in certain elements of the ceremony to honour Sgt. Harnett’s contributions.”

But Neufeld said CPS plans to continue these discussions with external advisory boards and its anti-racism advisory board in the days and weeks ahead. 

“One of the questions I suspect you will be considering is whether there are possibilities for members to be asked to wear alternate symbols that don’t have the same connotations,” said Croft.

“As the CPS itself acknowledged … regarding the flag incident just a week or so ago, symbols are very important.”

Neufeld said he sees this as an opportunity to have “education flowing both ways.”

“I  think there’s opportunity for a conversation that takes place outside of social media and one that actually helps us understand what this symbol causes for people in the Calgary context and also for us to share information with the community about what it actually means and where it came into play within the Calgary Police Service,” he said. 

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a nuanced conversation where our folks can learn about where that symbol became vilified. Can it be rehabilitated? I don’t know the answer to that. That will come in the conversation.”

These are also conversations that are taking place nationally with the RCMP having banned it and and also locally with other services banning it within Canada.– Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra

Neufeld said there are a lot of people on social media who are upset by the use of the symbol.

“Saying if you’re wearing these symbols, you should be terminated, you’re a racist, you’re a fascist and all these things. I don’t believe that, quite frankly,” he said. “That’s not how we look at that insignia inside the organization, and I’ve got a reputation inside the organization for holding officers accountable for misconduct. But I also think it’s very important that we don’t punish them for the things that they haven’t done.”

But Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra cautioned the chief against characterizing this as a conversation taking place on social media. 

“These are also conversations that are taking place nationally with the RCMP having banned it and and also locally with other services banning it within Canada,” he said. 

“Sometimes anti-racism is about being proactive and being sympathetic to to conversations in the community.”

Neufeld said this discussion will be very close to home for many officers, some of which have the thin blue line symbol tattooed on their bodies. 

“They actually put that they’re quite righteously believing it was a good thing and in fact, I would argue it was a very good thing when they did it and there was nothing wrong with it,” he said.

“There has been changes, obviously, in the perception of these symbols over time … and if it’s an offensive symbol to the community, I don’t think that’s what we want either at the end of the day.”

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