The Calgary Police Commission’s decision to require officers to remove the controversial thin blue line patch from their uniforms has deepened discord within the police service, according to Calgary’s police chief.
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.”
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.”
For some members of the police service, the patch is seen as a way to honour fallen colleagues.
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.
In a statement released on 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.
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.
More to come.