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'It's inflammatory': Vancouver police officer's patch ignites questions about objectivity

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A Vancouver police officer is being scrutinized for donning a patch that does not adhere to the force’s uniform regulations.

Former city council candidate Sean Orr shared an image of the officer’s patch on X, the platform previously called Twitter, and said it was captured Monday evening.

The black patch resembles the Israeli flag, except for a diagonal line through its centre. Orr said it raises concerns about police objectivity.

“There have been issues raised about impartiality around the Vancouver police, especially in the recent election," he said. “I brought up concerns around the Vancouver Police Union endorsing political candidates. It’s part of a concerning trend.”

In 2022, the police union endorsed then-candidate Ken Sim, citing in part his ABC Vancouver party's pledge to hire 100 more police officers as part of its public safety platform. 

Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, agrees with Orr, stating the officer’s patch is inappropriate and can have an impact on public perception.

“It’s not necessary,” he said. “It’s inflammatory and it needs to be dealt with properly by the police service involved.”

The VPD responded to Orr on X, saying the patch is not an approved part of its uniform, and that the officer has been directed to remove it. 

In the photo, the bottom corner of the patch is not visible. Mariel Cooksey, the executive director of the Canadian Institute for Far-Right Studies, told CTV News she’s seen the patch before, often with the skull-shaped logo for The Punisher, a violent comic book vigilante, added in that corner.

Cooksey said the skull imagery is often utilized by Neo-Nazi groups in the U.S., and was previously seen on a police officer in Toronto in 2020.

“We saw it painted on the shields of protestors at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017,” she said.

“It’s a very frightening symbol to be worn by a police officer who is there to protect the general public.”

When asked to clarify what the entire patch depicted, and if the officer faced any consequences for wearing it, the VPD told CTV News it didn’t know the answers to those questions.

In a statement to CTV News, Mayor Ken Sim, who also serves as chair of the Vancouver Police Board, said, “I can confirm that the patch worn by the officer was not part of the standard uniform and the officer in question has been directed to remove it by the VPD.”

Since the image was shared Thursday, it’s gained tens of thousands of interactions online. Embed tweet: https://twitter.com/seanorr/status/1758242754961022984/photo/1

According to the VPD’s regulations and procedures manual, “members shall not make any modification to their issue uniform or accessories unless otherwise authorized.” 

It's a rule the department has had to enforce, especially in regards to the controversial thin blue line patch. A review was prompted by a 2021 complaint lodged against an officer for wearing one such patch – featuring a black-and-white Canadian flag with a blue line through the middle – while policing an Indigenous land back rally in downtown Vancouver.

In its 2023 end-of-year report, B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, the body that oversees policing, said it received 42 complaints from the public expressing concern with officers wearing thin blue line patches on their uniform.

It’s recommendation was for the director of police services to review the police uniform regulation.

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