RCMP union pushes back against ban on ‘thin blue line’ symbol, says it has ordered custom patches
The union representing RCMP members is pushing back against a directive issued by management banning officers from wearing or displaying controversial “thin blue line” patches while on duty, calling them an “important and selfless” symbol.
In fact, the National Police Federation told its 20,000 members in a weekend letter that it has ordered custom thin blue line patches for all front-line officers that are expected to arrive in weeks.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor specializing in race and criminal justice research, said Monday that RCMP management did the right thing issuing the ban and that the union’s stance is out of touch with prevailing public sentiment.
“They’re going to be on the wrong side of history. I just don’t understand why they’re not engaging in a more positive manner and putting policing in a better — rather than a worse — position,” he said.
The thin blue line symbol has come under increasing scrutiny by critics calling for police reform. Some say such symbols create an us-versus-them mentality and do not foster trust in communities police are meant to serve.
Media reports from the United States to Australia indicate there have been concerns far-right groups and opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement have co-opted the symbol, as well.
As the Star first reported, Al McCambridge, the RCMP’s corps sergeant major responsible for dress, deportment, ceremonial protocols and traditions, sent out a memo to all members Friday, instructing them to no longer wear symbols depicting a “subdued” Canadian flag with a blue stripe through it while on duty.
As the force faces “difficult public conversations about the role of police in our society” it is natural for officers to want to show support for one another, the memo reads. But while the use of the symbol has become widespread in North America as a sign of solidarity and support for police, “It is not an approved symbol and is not to be worn on our uniform or displayed on other equipment such as vehicles.”
“It is as important as ever to support each other and our partners and colleagues, but we need to do so while presenting the professional, consistent image that is an important part of maintaining public trust.”
But Brian Sauve, the National Police Federation president, said in the weekend letter the union’s board “strongly disagrees” with the directive.
“We have strongly expressed our concerns with RCMP leadership, and we will continue to advocate for your right to display and honour this important and selfless symbol,” he wrote.
“As many of you know, the ‘Thin Blue Line’ concept as it relates to policing has existed since early in the 1900s. It delineates the important and often dangerous role police officers play in providing a barrier between social order and chaos. It has also become a symbol of Members’ pride and solidarity in caring for their communities and each other, potentially with the ultimate sacrifice.”
The letter goes on to say that the union had ordered custom thin blue line patches for front-line officers and expects them to be delivered in the next three to four weeks.
“In the meantime, we support Members who choose to wear the existing blue line patch and will assist in defending any Member who faces disciplinary action.”
The letter also encourages members to submit emails describing what the thin blue line means to them. “We’ll share some of your responses on our social media channels,” it says.
Owusu-Bempah said the union’s doubling down on the use of the symbol is a product of a protectionism that police associations engage in that is not likely to garner public or political support.
“A key part of the thin blue line mentality and behaviour is a code of silence. That code of silence serves to protect police officers when they do something wrong. The suggestion that this is coming from a good place to me is erroneous,” he said.
“The thin blue line movement and symbolism re-entrenches some of the most negative aspects of police culture and the negative aspects of police culture we want to move beyond.”
An RCMP spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.