Police chiefs say they are prepared for pandemic policing amid COVID-19 crisis
SUDBURY -- It's a tough time right now for all Canadians, but police services across northern Ontario say they will be fully staffed and on the front-lines.
"It's really about keeping all of our people healthy so that they can keep our community safe. And we started off with self-isolation, and for anyone who is returning from overseas, we started moving towards sending staff home who aren't on the front-lines performing those operational functions," said Greater Sudbury Police Services Chief Paul Pedersen.
The police chief says they've also put a focus on extra cleanliness, using hand sanitizers at every point of entrance and masks for officers out on the streets.
They, like many other services across the region, have also been restricting their buildings in a bid to limit foot traffic.
"We have allowed for self-isolation for those returning. We are still fully-staffed, so the amount of absences is consistent with what we might have on any given day. One of the things that's truly admirable about our profession is when the chips are down, they step up. And our front-line people are stepping up admirably," said Pedersen.
Sudbury's police chief was also asked about what kind of role the service might play in Ontario's state of emergency or if an emergency is declared at the federal level.
"The hope for us, and I guess it's a hope, the hope is everyone will heed these warnings. This is a state of emergency. This is a global pandemic and luckily I haven't heard of any cases in Sudbury where somebody hasn't heeded the advice or the legislation that restricts closures of restaurants," said Pedersen. "Should it become necessary for us to enforce, then we have the powers that are enacted through this provincial legislation to do the enforcement. But, I truly do hope that we don't ever have to use that legislation."
Pedersen, who is also head of the Ontario Association of the Chiefs of Police, says he's been getting a positive response from police across the province on how prepared they are to tackle the coming days.
North Bay Police Service has gone into what it is calling "enhanced monitoring" of the situation and has been having discussions with its local partners.
"I work with a strong and dedicated group of managers and leaders within the police service who instituted a very good policy and practice with regards to PPE (personal protective equipment) protocols in place with regards to a situation similar to this," said North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod.
According to Tod, they're taking much of their cues from lessons learned in the SARS crisis of 2003.
"We've asked for officers, first of all, to ensure their own safety first," said Tod.
The North Bay police chief says they've received one or two 911 calls from people looking for information on the virus and they've referred them onto the proper authorities at public health.
The Northeast OPP has also been busy preparing, while at the same time restricting their building hours and services.
It's not only covering a large geographical region but it's at the same time trying to get the word out to those smaller communities who need its services.
OPP Sergeant Carlo Berardi says they are restricting access to their detachments and their administration office. They're also limiting their services.
"At this point, we're practical. If we can practice social distancing, washing our hands, as well as avoiding people who are sick, we will do that," said Berardi. "In emergency situations, where arrests have to be made and close contact has to be made, our members are issued equipment, personal protective equipment, and trained in the use of that equipment. So, at any given time, we are exposed to potentially any virus that someone might be afflicted with, so at that point, it's business as usual in that regard."
Timmins Police Service says it's been in direct and continued contact with the Porcupine Health Unit as it continues to monitor the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, Timmins police began limiting some non-urgent service delivery in a bid to limit the human-to-human transmission of the virus.
The service is also asking people to stay away from their police station at 185 Spruce Street unless absolutely necessary.
In a statement, Timmins police adds they will resume services once it's deemed safe to do so, but for now, they plan on doing some of them either over the phone or online.
Sault Ste. Marie says it's closing its Police Services Building to the public effectively immediately and that all appointments are being prioritized and postponed for the foreseeable future.
The Anishinabek Police Service says it's been working with provincial and local community health partners and is also trying to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its employees.
APS detachments are being closed to the public unless it's an emergency situation.
The Indigenous police service says it plans to follow the recommendations and guidelines of public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their buildings.