Following an official review prompted by a complaint, the Vancouver Police Board (VPB) has determined that the “thin blue line” patch cannot be worn by uniformed, on-duty Vancouver police officers, after hearing that some members of the public associate the symbol with “racism” and “colonialism.”
The review followed a Dec.1, 2021, complaint from a member of the public who saw a Vancouver police officer wearing the item and “perceived [it] to be an offensive patch,” said a Vancouver Police Department (VPD) report dated Jan. 2.
The report was submitted by Fiona Wilson, the VPD’s deputy chief, to the VPB Service and Policy Complaint Review Committee. The committee met on Jan. 19 to conclude its review of the complaint based on the Jan. 2 report.
The patch was described in the report as a “Canadian flag with [a] blue line through it.” Included with the report was a briefing document that detailed the history of the thin blue line symbol, its significance to police, and recent controversies surrounding it.
The review did not examine the actions of the individual officer but instead focused on the VPD’s Regulation and Procedure Manual (RPM) and its policy on “uniform and dress”
Ultimately, the VPB determined that the thin blue line patch is not an authorized uniform item and thus cannot be worn.
“There are no unauthorized badges or patches or pins that are allowed on our various uniforms unless they have been approved by our uniform committee. As it happens, they have not been approved by our uniform committee,” Wilson told the committee at the Jan. 19 meeting.
The VPB did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Pride Pin Allowed
The VPD’s RPM and policy on uniform and dress do permit officers to wear various commemorative items, the Jan. 2 report said, such as an optional VPD Pride Pin during Vancouver’s annual Pride Week, and the Peace Officers’ Memorial Ribbon, at specific times, following an officer’s death and on Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Day in September.
The briefing document discusses the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in the United States, which “prompted important conversations regarding racial justice, police accountability and the relationship between police and community.”
The death of Floyd, said the briefing, was “set against the backdrop of growing political and social disruption in the United States [and] resulted in numerous protests involving social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and various other movements.”
In outlining the history of the term “thin blue line,” the briefing said it was an adaptation of the term “thin red line,” “which originated when red-coated members of a Scottish regiment of the British Army stood their ground, despite being outnumbered by their Russian foes, in a battle during the Crimean War in 1854.”
The briefing also noted that in March 2022 the Calgary Police Commission directed Calgary police officers to stop wearing the thin blue line patch, saying that it “has a contentious history with roots in division, colonialism and racism, most recently being prominently displayed at counter protests against the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Meanwhile, Blue Line is also the name of a “respected national policing magazine” in Canada, said the briefing.
It also noted that the thin blue line has become a “patriotic symbol” as well as a “universal symbol” by which police officers identify themselves and their mission of protecting and serving the community. In addition, it has become as a “sacred symbol” for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.
On Jan. 6, the VPD issued a memo to all Vancouver police officers reminding them to adhere to the uniform policy, but there has been no indication as to how police brass will handle cases of non-compliance.