Commission remains committed to working with officers on thin blue line
The Calgary Police Commission remains committed to working with the Calgary Police Association and the Calgary Police Senior Officers Association to try find or create a replacement for the thin blue line patch. The Commission’s direction to officers through the Chief was to stop wearing the controversial patch while on-duty, starting today.
The Calgary Police Association has distributed countless thin blue line patches and pins to police officers and civilian members of the Service in response to the directive. The action has left many members of the Commission frustrated, with some even expressing their personal frustration with the response yesterday.
“There are varying views of the thin blue line amongst those who sit on the Commission and we have had many long conversations about it,” said Commission Chair Shawn Cornett. “We know the thin blue line patch is a symbol with deep, positive meaning to the police officers who wear it to support one another and honour those who have given their lives to keep us safe.”
“The entire Commission completely supports there being a patch to express these ideas and does not think officers are wearing the thin blue line to express the same things as those who use the symbol negatively, but we also all agree that the thin blue line patch now has too many other messages mixed in with it to be the symbol used for this purpose.”
One of the considerations the Commission factored into its decision was a joint letter from the two associations. The letter clearly stated how important the symbol was to members, but also provided two statistics from a survey conducted by the associations of over 1,500 randomly selected Calgarians.
In their letter, the associations said that despite only five per cent of respondents knowing what the thin blue line was meant to represent, only 72 per cent of respondents said they would view it either positively or neutrally if a police officer was wearing it.
“If one in four Calgarian’s first impression of an officer wearing the thin blue line patch is negative, even when they don’t really know what the patch is supposed to represent, we cannot support officers wearing it on-duty. Officers daily respond to emotionally charged, dynamic situations where they are not always going to have time to explain the meaning to the quarter of the population that will be put off by it,” adds Chair Cornett.
The Commission continues to hope that the associations will accept the invitation to work with a professional graphic design firm to design a replacement symbol at the Commission’s expense. Aside from the high-level direction that the new design needs to better reflect the values of all Calgarians, the design would be left entirely to officers and their families.
Enforcement of the Commission's direction is the responsibility of the Service’s Chief Constable and the Service’s leadership is working hard at this point to try obtain voluntary compliance. Calgary is not the first police service to ask officers not to wear the thin blue line patch, as many other major police services across Canada and the United States have already made the same decision given the controversy around the symbol.
“We knew this wouldn’t be easy and we hear how important this symbol is to members, but we are steadfast in this being the right thing to do for both the Service and community,” said Chair Cornett. “We have no desire to implement this decision through discipline or other coercion and hope we can find a different resolution.”
“However, it is deeply concerning that the police associations and senior officers are encouraging police officers to disregard a lawful direction given by the body Calgary’s elected government has appointed to provide police oversight. That is something that will absolutely need to be addressed if it continues,” adds Cornett.
The Calgary Police Commission is a body of 10 community members and two city councillors appointed by City Council to provide independent citizen governance and oversight of the Calgary Police Service on behalf of all Calgarians.
To protect the political neutrality of the police, Alberta’s Police Act requires that the police chief report directly to the Commission and that the Commission give direction to the Service through the chief, police policies, monitoring of the police conduct complaints process, and approval of how the police budget is spent.