Breakenridge: It’s OK for the police to disagree but not OK to disobey

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Reasonable people may disagree on whether the Calgary Police Board made the right decision about wearing the thin blue line. Frankly, reasonable people may disagree on what this patch itself represents.

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However, the power of the commission to make such a decision in the first place should not be up for debate. Let us not lose sight of the importance of civilian oversight of police and what a disturbing precedent it would be for police officers to blatantly disregard and disobey an order from a police board.

Following a year-long consultation process, the commission last week ordered that Calgary police officers on duty no longer wear the thin blue line on their uniforms. The commission’s chairman said in a statement that “stopping the use of a symbol that undermines some Calgarians’ confidence in the police is the right thing to do.”

As this statement notes, the symbol means different things to different people. For some, it symbolizes the important role the police play in protecting society as well as honoring fallen officers and expressing solidarity with those who serve. For others, however, it represents an “us versus them” mentality between the police and the community. The fact that the symbol appears to have been co-opted by other groups and movements has compounded some of these more negative perceptions.

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Given all of this, the commission’s decision on the matter was bound to disappoint a significant number of people. While no one expected the Calgary Police Association, which represents uniformed members of the Calgary Police Service, to endorse or support this particular decision, their response goes too far.

In a letter to members, the association’s president encouraged members to “wear this important symbol in defiance of the commission’s order.”

While the association has raised some reasonable points about the decision and its timing, such as low morale in the force and the recent killing of one of their own, it’s a rather unreasonable way to be mistaken. object to the decision. The fact that uniformed police ignore a decision of the independent civilian oversight body charged with making such decisions does not disabuse anyone of the idea that an “us versus them” mentality exists in the force.

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This does not mean that the association must stifle its objections or that the decision of the commission must end the debate now and forever. The association and, for that matter, anyone else who thinks officers should be allowed to wear the patch can continue to make their case to the public. If this current iteration of the commission chooses not to reconsider, perhaps a future iteration will.

But for now, the decision is made.

In a statement Friday, the commission said it “remains committed” to working with officers to “find or create a replacement for the thin blue line patch.” In the meantime, however, the president says it is “deeply concerning” that officers are being encouraged to “disregard a legal directive given by the body the elected Calgary government has appointed to provide oversight of the police”.

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And while there is currently “no will to implement this decision through discipline or other coercion,” clearly that will not be the case forever. So while the association will surely fight for any members who face repercussions for breaking this guideline, is it really in anyone’s interest to let it come to this? Also, have they really thought about the ramifications of the precedent they’re about to set here?

There’s a reason the police board exists to begin with. Opposing a specific decision is no reason to undermine the whole premise of civilian oversight. Agree or disagree is how such decisions are made and this process should be followed.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on 770CHQR and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on 630CHED [email protected] Twitter: @RobBreakenridge

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