Thin blue line patches coming off Calgary police uniforms by end of May

A Calgary police officer is seen wearing a thin blue line patch on the upper right of his uniform, in an undated photo. Global News

Nearly two months after advising its members to defy a Calgary Police Commission order to remove thin blue line (TBL) patches, the Calgary Police Association is recommending its members remove the patches from their daily uniforms.

“We reluctantly recommend you remove the TBL patches and comply with the CPC’s order,” CPA president Johnny Orr wrote on Tuesday.

“The CPA board is advising all of you to remove the TBL patches from only your street uniforms in compliance with the direction from the (police) chief.”

During Wednesday afternoon’s meeting, commission chair Shawn Cornett said a date has been confirmed for the “required” removal of patches from uniforms that Calgary Police Service officers wear on a day-to-day basis: May 31.

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Cornett said the directive from the civilian oversight body was for on-duty officers as a means to make officers less “uncomfortable” to Calgarians who see TBL as a white supremacist symbol.

CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said that directive includes plainclothes officers, saying “if you’re a member that’s deployed in plain clothes, that essentially is your uniform.”

“You’re interacting with the public, so that direction applies to all (plainclothes officers).”

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses gun violence and the thin blue line controversy'
Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses gun violence and the thin blue line controversy

Neufeld added he was pleased with the development, saying it was a step towards voluntary compliance.

“The commission also does not question whether Calgary’s police officers wear the symbol with good intentions or to express positive things,” Cornett said.

“The decision was always based simply on the symbol having mixed meanings to a significant number of people in our city.”

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A CPA survey showed nearly a quarter of Calgarians did not respond to the TBL patches “either positively or neutrally.”

The TBL flag was seen at U.S. Black Lives Matter counter-protests in the mid-2010s and at the 2017 white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Orr said the concession came with some “wins,” including the possibility of wearing the symbol with dress uniform, changes in the commission’s social media and code of conduct policies and improved lines of communication “to ensure your voices are heard.”

“It has been pointed out that should the CPC agree to allow the wearing of the patch on our dress uniform, that we would be the first major police service in the country to do so and this in turn would lead the way for all police services across the country to follow suit,” Orr wrote.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Police Commission works to remove ‘thin blue line’ police patches'
Calgary Police Commission works to remove ‘thin blue line’ police patches

He said social media posts from commissioners have been “much more measured and fair” since the police union’s initial pushback on the distribution of the patches in early April.

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Orr, other CPA members and the CPS chief himself previously raised concerns about “anti-police rhetoric.”

Cornett said the commission is working ahead on its social media policy.

“The commissioners all know that they are meant to support the work of the commission and relationships within the community,” she said.

Orr said CPA leadership “still vehemently disagrees with the commission’s decision in relation to the TBL,” but if continually openly defied, discipline would be a likely next step from the commission.

“Any reduction in our already depleted workforce also puts Calgarians’ safety at risk, which is something none of us are willing to do.”

In addition to wearing the symbol on their dress uniform “to show remembrance for the fallen on those occasions,” Orr encouraged plainclothes officers to wear a TBL pin.

The move comes after in-person talks between the CPA, CPS and CPC over a breakdown in trust over things like the patch’s use and history, reduced morale among officers, pandemic-related stresses and social media posts from commissioners.

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