New Brunswick

Saint John police officers ordered not to wear thin blue line patches

Saint John police tweeted that it has spoken with its officers following photos being posted on social media of officers at the site of a protest wearing patches with a thin blue line going through the Canadian flag.

Patches have been criticized for fostering an 'us vs. them' mentality among officers

The Saint John Police Force tweeted that it has spoken with its officers after photos were posted on social media of officers at a protest wearing patches with a thin blue line going through the Canadian flag. (amazon)

The Saint John Police Force has ordered members to stop wearing thin blue line patches following social media posts of officers sporting the controversial patch. 

Tweets posted on Thursday show Saint John police officers wearing the patches at King's Square on July 3, while on duty at a protest related to former residential schools.

The patch has acquired various connotations. Some supporters say wearing the patch is a sign of solidarity among  officers, but critics say it fosters a dangerous sense of opposition between police officers and civilians.  

Community members say the protest on July 3 was about bringing awareness to the damage done by colonialism, following the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the sites of former residential schools.

The protest also followed the vandalization of the statue of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley in the square. 

Saint John police declined an interview request and instead directed CBC News to its Twitter post

The post states that uniform standards have been discussed with officers.

"[The Saint John Police Force] has uniform standards that only allow issued items on the uniform — the thin blue line patch is not issued by the [the Saint John Police Force] thus is not part of our uniform and not authorized to wear," the post said.

Cheryl Johnson, who works in Saint John, was at the protest and took the photos. Later in the month, she was alerted by a friend who inspected the photos more closely and noticed some officers wearing the patches. 

"It was horrifying to discover that," Johnson said in an interview. 

Johnson said she considered informing Saint John police about the patches but had concerns that the matter would be neglected, so she posted the photos to social media. 

"I find that through Twitter, it can be very effective in quickly getting the message across and I was also interested to see what other folks thought about it," said Johnson.

"We know that in policing, there is a history of violence and abuse, assault, so trying to publicly double down on the concept of us versus them makes me feel incredibly unsafe."

Police forces across the country have distanced themselves from the patch.

The RCMP advised its officers to stop wearing the patches last fall, citing it was not an approved symbol or officially part of the uniform.

Ottawa police have also been banned from wearing the patches, while Montreal and Toronto police having been spotted wearing the patches this year.

Saint John Coun. David Hickey said he was disappointed to learn city police officers were wearing the patches. 

"What it comes down to is promoting that us versus them mentality and rhetoric that is becoming apparent in policing and I don't want to see that," said  Hickey.

David Hickey, a Ward 3 councillor in Saint John and the chair of the public safety committee, said he was disappointed to learn about the patches. (David Hickey/Facebook)

He added that city officials have a duty to ensure Saint John residents feel comfortable interacting with their police department, but a shared level of respect needs to be achieved.

The wearing of thin blue line patches is facing additional scrutiny following protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and growing criticism toward the Blue Lives Matter counter movement, which began in the United States purporting the importance of valuing police officers' lives. 

El Jones is an assistant professor of political studies at Mount Saint Vincent University and a community activist based in Halifax. 

Jones said the patches migrated from the United States, with the messaging behind the thin blue line being that the police are the only thing standing between order and chaos.

"You see a kind of imagining of society that's quite dystopian. ... You're always in danger and the only thing keeping you safe is policing," she said in an interview.

El Jones is an assistant professor of political studies at Mount Saint Vincent University and a community activist based in Halifax, said the patches have origins in the United States. (Submitted by El Jones)

When looking at things through a lens of supposed order and chaos, Jones said often times policing punishes those who are already marginalized by society.

One of the most troubling connotations behind the patches, Jones noted, is them being worn in solidarity with officers accused of police brutality. 

"Particularly to Black people, it is quite frightening because it's putting on your uniform, a sign of my solidarity with my fellow officers, and not with the idea of law and order," said Jones.

The patch has also served as conduit for racist ideology, with authorities acknowledging that white nationalist groups have taken an interest in adopting the patch as a symbol.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mrinali has worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has written and produced stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup, CBC News Network and CBC Entertainment News. Have a tip? Mrinali.anchan@cbc.ca

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