A local group wants Calgarians to come together and show their support for the Calgary Police Service after reports show low officer morale and increasing public criticism of the service.
Called ‘Beacons of Hope,‘ the campaign was created by local philanthropist Murray McCann and entrepreneur Jackson McDonough.
McDonough said the goal is to “give a megaphone” to Calgarians who support local police officers.
“This is an initiative born from true Calgarians and people that have lived here our whole lives,” McDonough said. “We know what makes this city great and it’s our kindness, so let’s put that on full blast.”
The campaign’s website, which launched last month, features a message board with dozens of messages of support for Calgary police officers.
‘Beacons of Hope’ will also be hosting an event on Saturday at 5p.m. at Sunnyside Bank Park, where the Field of Crosses is hosted each year. It will include members of the Calgary Police Service as well as performances by George Canyon, the Cantaré Children’s Choir and the Korinnya Ukrainian Folk Ensemble Calgary.
The ceremony will feature a lighting of more than 3,000 candles with blue flames to represent each serving sworn and civilian member of the Calgary Police Service. The candles will burn overnight until sunrise the next morning.
McDonough said he hopes the event will “bring people together to have meaningful conversations and maybe get a little bit away from the yelling and screaming that can go on in an online environment, meet face to face, have those conversations, share your voice and opinions, and maybe walk away with a few new things that you didn’t know before.”
The event is welcomed by Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld, who said the gathering “means more than you know.”
“When I was first approached with this initiative, I was truly humbled,” Neufeld said in a statement. “Our community is, and has always been, the ‘why’ behind everything we do, so this expression of support means everything to us.”
According to McDonough, the idea for the initiative was sparked by a 2021 CPS employee engagement report that showed officer morale was at an historic low.
The report showed 82 per cent of CPS members disagreed with the statement “morale at CPS is good,” which attributed the drop to resources, perception of police, challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and debate over defunding the police.
City council approved a $6 million funding increase for Calgary Police in its most recent budget deliberations last November.
“We all do better when we’re feeling our best,” McDonough said. “So the ‘Beacons of Hope’ is an opportunity to help them feel their best.”
The event comes following several controversies surrounding CPS, including the Calgary Police Commission’s order for on-duty officers to remove the ‘thin blue line’ patch from their uniforms.
It was an order that was put on hold after officers continued wearing the patch — which was encouraged by the police union — and a decision by CPS senior leadership to not immediately enforce the order.
One local anti-racism advocate said officer accountability will be a major factor in improving morale within the Calgary Police Service.
“As soon as officers who step out of line are held accountable, all other officers — the vast majority of officers who are good police officers that are out there wanting to make our community safe and secure — are going to feel a boost in morale,” Adam Massiah with the United Black Peoples Allyship said. “Because they are finally being separated from some of the people that made them look collectively negative for the last two and a half years.”
According to the Calgary Police Commission, CPS’ civilian oversight body, ‘Beacons of Hope’ is a “great way” for Calgarians to “express their gratitude” towards local police.
“The police officers and civilian staff at the Calgary Police Service work tirelessly to keep our community safe and help people in their time of need,” the police commission said in a statement. “Our community has been working through some very complex issues in policing over the last few years and we know that these difficult conversations, along with staffing shortages and the pressures COVID-19, have taken a toll on many in the Service.”
The police commission said it would be taking part in the event.