Vancouver Police chief joins in banishment of ‘Thin Blue Line’ symbols


Chief James McElvain denies responsibility for removal of signs of support by members of community

VANCOUVER – Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain has joined Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins in the banishment of all “Thin Blue Line’’ symbols and decals. McElvain issued a statement Thursday in response to criticism he received over the removal of signs and gestures of support offered by members of the community at the Vancouver Police Departments’ two precincts.

A report published by LawEnforcementToday.com stated that “a huge membership of the Vancouver community came together to honor, support, and love on our police’’ Wednesday at both the VPD’s West and East precincts. 

“Today, the officers felt that love,’’ stated the report of the Wednesday events. “They felt lifted up and appreciated in a way they haven’t felt in a very long time.’’

Members of the Vancouver community showed up Wednesday to the Vancouver Police Department’s East and West Precincts to show their support for members of the department. After the events were over, they were upset to learn that all of the evidence off their support had been removed from the exterior of the precincts. Photo courtesy of lawenforcementtoday.com
Members of the Vancouver community showed up Wednesday to the Vancouver Police Department’s East and West Precincts to show their support for members of the department. After the events were over, they were upset to learn that all of the evidence off their support had been removed from the exterior of the precincts. Photo courtesy of lawenforcementtoday.com

The report followed with the statement that, “Today, the Chief of police, Chief James McElvain, spat in all of their faces.’’

The author of the report claimed to be an unnamed “medically retired police officer from the Vancouver Police Department, and I’m also married to an officer.’’ Photos of the event, published with the report, showed a number of signs made by the members of the community in support of the law enforcement officers.

https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/washington-community-honors-officers-with-signs-police-chief-rips-them-down-because-its-divisive/

The former VPD officer said that shortly after returning home from the events, another officer phoned and “said that the Chief ordered everything that was put up by our families and community to be taken down. Because it was divisive.’’

McElvain said he was not responsible for the removal of the signs and displays of support.

“I did make the decision to direct VPD staff that no ‘Thin Blue Line’ symbol or icons will be allowed to be worn by employees, or displayed in or on City of Vancouver property (buildings, uniforms, vehicles),’’ McElvain said in his statement.

Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain
Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain. File Photo.

“On Wednesday, June 24th members of our community visited the East and West precincts to show support by bringing signs, posters and thank you cards,’’ McElvain stated. “These were hung outside on the buildings of both precincts and our staff were there to gratefully receive them. What followed has drawn much criticism, directed primarily at me, and I want to clarify what actually occurred, especially in light of an online article that is circulating that has many inaccuracies. 

“The article states that I ‘ordered everything that was put up by our families and community to be taken down because it was divisive,’’ McElvain stated. “This is blatantly untrue. 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.’’

McElvain’s denial didn’t include any statement that the items should not have been removed, or that he was disappointed that they were removed. Rather, he offered an apparent defense of the decision and an explanation as to why they were removed.

“What is true is we find ourselves in the middle of the recent public discourse regarding the ‘Thin Blue Line’ symbol, which is viewed as divisive and fearful by many in our community,’’ McElvain said. “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.  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. 

“Those of us in the vocation of Law Enforcement have a long held belief that the ‘Thin Blue Line’ symbol, whether stand alone or embedded on the US Flag, represented solidarity and professional pride within a dangerous, difficult profession and symbolizes a solemn tribute to fallen police officers,’’ McElvain stated. “Unfortunately, others have misappropriated this symbol to perpetuate racism and division from our community. It is disheartening to know this symbol has been ‘co-opted’ by certain groups and individuals to propagate hate. Underrepresented communities are associating this symbol with oppression and hate and therefore, I did make the decision to direct VPD staff that no ‘Thin Blue Line’ symbol or icons will be allowed to be worn by employees, or displayed in or on City of Vancouver property (buildings, uniforms, vehicles).This had nothing to do with yesterday’s community appreciation event yet it is being inaccurately tied to this directive.’’

McElvain stated that the posters and cards were removed but are still “intact.’’

“I want to start by clarifying what actually occurred yesterday, and assure everyone that none of the posters or cards from yesterday’s support event were ‘ripped down,’ everything was brought inside and is intact,’’ he said. “I also want to explain why the posters and cards were removed after the event concluded, and emphasize how much I truly appreciate the community bringing notes and posters of thanks especially during this time when police officers feel underappreciated. 

“We receive these types of cards, posters and notes frequently and our staff greatly appreciate them,’’ the chief added. “However, we must always be cognizant of how long notes and posters hang on the exterior of our buildings, regardless of the lobby closures which are currently still in place. Notes and cards can get destroyed by weather, blow off the walls and create other issues for our neighbors so we must balance how long these memorials of thanks stay outside. This has been our practice for many years and the same thing occurred yesterday. The group took photos, gathered with officers and after the event concluded, the materials were taken down and brought inside. 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 VPD staff will attempt make “an effort to mend any hurt feelings which yesterday’s removal unintentionally caused, we will be displaying the notes and letters, minus any ‘thin blue line’ items, in our East and West precinct lobbies, which are scheduled to re-open to the public on Mon., June 29.’’

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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