A post on a law enforcement site has caused a stir after it accused Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain of calling decorations in support of law enforcement “divisive” and ordering them removed from outside the department’s precinct buildings. In a statement, the chief said the anonymous post contained “many inaccuracies.”
The article and an open letter to McElvain were posted Wednesday on Law Enforcement Today, a news and opinion website for active and retired law enforcement officers, their families and supporters. The author is not named but says they are a medically retired officer from the department and married to an officer. (Law Enforcement Today states that they allow contributors to remain anonymous but verifies their identity.)
The post starts: “Today, a huge membership of the Vancouver community came together to honor, support and love on our police. Today, the officers felt that love. They felt lifted up and appreciated in a way they haven’t felt in a very long time. Today, the chief of police, Chief James McElvain, spat in all of their faces.”
The post elicited much community criticism of McElvain, who issued a statement Thursday afternoon addressing it.
“The article states that I ‘ordered everything that was put up by our families and community to be taken down because it was divisive.’ This is blatantly untrue,” according to McElvain’s statement. “Let me be clear, I said nothing to anyone ordering items to be removed, and I do not believe that community members bringing posters and cards to our personnel or precincts is divisive; quite the opposite, it is much appreciated. I was not aware that someone took the initiative to remove the items of appreciation until later, and was surprised to learn that the removal was attributed to me.”
A friend of the author’s reportedly had been planning a show of support for months, but due in part to social distancing mandates, the event was put off. Following protests against police brutality — sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes, and Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in Kentucky as they executed a no-knock warrant at her apartment — the organizers decided to get a group together to decorate outside the department’s two precincts.
The author said the group obtained permission from the department and hung signs, cards and flags, and kids drew on the ground with chalk. Officers walked outside to cheers and thanked them.
“The day was much needed. It was needed for the officers, it was needed for their families, and it was needed for the community,” the author wrote.
But a few hours later, the author said they got a call from an officer and was told McElvain had ordered that everything be removed because it was divisive. The author subsequently heard from a number of upset officers, their families and community members.
Thin Blue Line
According to the anonymous author, many of the decorations included iconography for the Thin Blue Line, a term intended to support law enforcement and family of officers killed in the line of duty.
It has been displayed, locally, as stickers with a blue bar across the middle of a black-and-white American flag. But it has also been a source of controversy due to a perceived overlap with “Blue Lives Matter,” a phrase that emerged in response to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins recently ordered Thin Blue Line stickers be removed from all county property over concerns they were dividing the community.
The author takes issue with McElvain reportedly banning the Thin Blue Line from being displayed “outside or inside the precincts, on cars and on mourning bands,” stating that he “decided to follow in Clark County Sheriff Atkins’ pandering footsteps.”
In his statement, McElvain addressed the Thin Blue Line symbol, saying it has been misappropriated by certain people and groups to “perpetuate racism and division from our community.”
“Although I appreciate those who embrace the ‘Thin Blue Line’ for all its honorable intentions, today, it has disrupted trust in policing for some members of our community,” he said. “As law enforcement professionals, we must always put at the forefront assurance to the community that our buildings feel safe for anyone that enters and that our officers are here to serve everyone equally and without bias.”
McElvain said he has directed that no Thin Blue Line symbols be worn by police employees or displayed in or on city property.
“This had nothing to do with yesterday’s community appreciation event, yet it is being inaccurately tied to this directive,” he said.
McElvain added that all of the posters and cards were brought inside the precinct buildings, intact, and that the department has to be cognizant of how long these memorials stay up outside.
“The group took photos, gathered with officers and after the event concluded, the materials were taken down and brought inside,” he explained. “We also make it a practice to take photos of notes and posters, whether they are left outside or delivered to our staff, and post them on our social media for others to see and share indefinitely.”
McElvain said that “in an effort to mend any hurt feelings, which yesterday’s removal unintentionally caused,” the notes and letters, except for references to the Thin Blue Line, will be displayed in the precincts’ lobbies, which reopen to the public on Monday.
“I truly appreciate the community’s support and understanding, not just in times of turbulence, but all the time. Moreover, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the facts and provide context to this situation,” he wrote.
In the article, the author also criticizes McElvain’s recent participation in a car rally for Black lives with the NAACP, in which the author said he was out of uniform because the group didn’t want a police presence, insinuating his actions were divisive.
Police department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said both McElvain and Assistant Chief Jeff Mori are “members of the NAACP, participated as members, drove their own cars and did not wear their uniforms.”
“We did have many uniformed officers assisting with traffic control and even helping participants whose vehicles stalled throughout the event,” she said.