Questions raised over 'thin blue line' patches worn by some Saskatoon police officers
A patch some officers have been spotted wearing is prompting a bit of soul searching at Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
At its Jan. 13 meeting, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners asked SPS to investigate the "thin blue line" patches some officers have been displaying and report back.
The request comes after a member of the public became concerned after he witnessed some officers wearing a patch that features a blue line through a Canadian flag — modelled after a similar logo used in the U.S.
"The thin blue line symbol was designed to reflect the ideology that police are the "thin blue line" keeping order from chaos," Graham MacDonald wrote in an email to the board.
"The Saskatoon Police Service has done great work to build bridges in the community, and the sentiments which the Thin Blue Line represents is a step back in this regard."
MacDonald also was concerned about how "thin blue line" imagery has come to be viewed in recent years — particularly in the U.S.
"This imagery, while originally intended to display solidarity with and among law enforcement has become a partisan symbol of opposition to the Black Lives Matter Movement," MacDonald said.
"By wearing it while on duty, officers are making a political statement, compromising their ability to enforce the law without bias."
While addressing the issue during the board meeting, SPS Chief Troy Cooper said the patches, which are not part of the service's uniform, are not a "purposeful" political statement by the officers choosing to wear them.
"I can tell you without hesitation at all that any officer within our service who have maybe has possession of an image or has possession of a patch like that, believes that it stands for a commitment to our profession," Cooper said.
Cooper compared the patches to other symbols worn by officers unofficially, such as a ribbon worn to mourn the loss of an officer or Pride-themed designs.
"I have had it described to me as a support patch, a desire to show support within the policing industry primarily around mental health support."
However, Cooper said MacDonald's reservations around the image and what it may symbolize in the community are an important consideration.
"We understand that the symbol of the 'thin blue line' patch has been misappropriated by some groups or some individuals at least, to mean something entirely different to them," Cooper said.
"We haven't necessarily heard this conversation in Saskatchewan and hasn't necessarily played out perhaps even in Canada, but certainly more broadly, and we're aware of that and not every officer would be aware of just exactly how politicized that has become."
Cooper said other police organizations in Canada are discussing the issue and debating "its value as a message to staff versus its impact on the community."
Commissioner Brent Penner, who served nearly two decades as a police officer in Saskatoon, said his concern is that alterations to a uniform in general would lead a member of the public to "have a different expectation of service level."
"Does it make somebody feel more comfortable in a situation and less comfortable and another," Penner said.
Another commissioner on the board, Kearney Healy, said that while the image has a dark, even "racist" history in the U.S., he's not certain it holds the same meaning in a Canadian context.
"To automatically accept that what this means in the United States is what it means in Canada is something that I'm not sure that I'm quite comfortable with," Kearney said.
Mayor Charlie Clark, who also serves as a commissioner, said talking to people directly affected on both the officer side and the community side will be the best way to come up with "the right answer."
"We need to have healthy police officers … and also healthy relationships within the community and that whatever gets expressed through uniform is helping us to create that overall culture," Clark said.
"That's the issue with the thin blue line, I think, in the way it has been interpreted or utilized in some situations can create a more of an 'us versus them' dynamic whether that's what's intended or not."
This article has been updated to more accuately reflect Penner's comments.
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