Police Chief Mark Neufeld has extended the deadline by two weeks for Calgary officers to remove the “thin blue line” patch from their uniforms, saying underlying issues between the service and the police commission must be addressed.
Neufeld said Tuesday that he will enforce the directive from the Calgary police commission for officers to remove the symbol but said the timeline to do so by the end of March was “unrealistic.” He believes most officers will eventually remove the symbol voluntarily.
“I would say that our members were quite frankly incensed by the decision. Anytime you feel like something like this is thrust upon you, a defensive reaction is not a surprising reaction,” said Neufeld. “We have a tired and frustrated workforce and, as I’ve said, morale is at an all-time low. Removing patches from the uniforms is one thing but completely vilifying the symbol and its meaning to our people, which has been communicated, is very much another.”
The commission issued its directive in March, stating that many Calgarians have a negative view of the symbol. In response, the Calgary Police Association said its members would not comply. The union has been accused of handing out “countless” patches with the symbol on them. The commission called on the union last Friday to collaborate on creating a new crest without any negative connotations attached to it.
Neufeld said to many officers, the thin blue line insignia represents honour for the fallen, service to the community and support for other officers. He said hearing it described as a “known hate symbol” was incendiary toward members.
The commission said a recent survey found that as many as one in four Calgarians view the symbol in a negative manner.
Neufeld said he believes there are underlying issues causing discontent amongst members, calling the directive the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” He remained vague around what those issues were but said officers have observed councillors posting or liking social media comments that can be perceived as anti-police, leading to an erosion of trust.
“The quantity of anti-police content that’s being sort of posted, shared or liked is really causing concern to the members,” said Neufeld. “Oftentimes, I think we talk with commission and so we hear the voice of commission in the direction of commission and then we’ll hear different things after, and the feeling of the membership is that there are there are individual agendas that are being pursued that are maybe overshadowing the larger governance role.”
Neufeld said he ultimately believes most officers will remove the patch from their uniforms voluntarily once his office is able to meet with stakeholders and address some of those concerns. He said he wants to avoid having to discipline members if possible.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to put this on pause to say, you know, for the next couple of weeks, we’re not going to be initiating disciplinary proceedings,” said Neufeld. “We are going to be engaging with our folks, treating them with respect, and then also allowing time for those discussions to move forward.”
The commission issued a statement Tuesday saying their directive has not changed but that they understand compliance will take time. They said they want to, as much as possible, work with officers to gain voluntary compliance.
“We knew implementing this decision would be difficult and we are committed to doing so, but we support the chief giving Calgary Police Service members time to work through it,” said commission chair Shawn Cornett. “Citizen oversight of the police is a fundamental principle in modern democracies, and we will need to address the fact that senior officers and police associations are encouraging officers to disregard a lawful direction from their oversight body if this continues.”
The commission also stated they have heard from members that there has been a breakdown in trust between the commission and the police service and that they are committed to improving communication between the two parties.
The debate around the symbol comes at a particularly busy time for CPS as there have been six homicides in the past two weeks. Neufeld said the amount of time that has gone into dealing with issues around the thin blue line has taken away from the department’s ability to stay on top of “critical issues” in the city.