Blue Line

COVID pandemic had an impact on OPP calls in the Pembroke area

March 31, 2022  By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mar. 30, 2022, Pembroke, Ont. – The detachment commander at Upper Ottawa Valley Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) cautioned members of Laurentian Valley Township (LV) last week the 2021 statistics for calls in the municipality should not be considered the norm in light of the COVID pandemic.

Inspector Stephan Neufeld made the comment while appearing before LV council recently to present the 2021 report that showed a hike in violent crimes in the area comprised of sections of Pembroke and the outlying rural areas. In 2021 there were 79 violent crimes reported in Laurentian Valley, compared with 56 in 2020, while at the same time there were 136 property crime violations, compared with 211 in 2020, a significant drop from previous years.

In an interview with the Leader, Insp. Neufeld said he will wait for the 2022 numbers until he is confident these unusual trends are the norm, or just an aberration as a direct result of the impact of COVID.

“I am not totally confident these numbers are an anomaly because of COVID and how it changed the usual patterns we all were used to before COVID,” he said. “There were more people working from home and when someone is home all day we are going to see less property damage. The number of calls we received about suspicious vehicles or neighbourly and domestic disputes were something this detachment has never seen.”

He said he would never discourage a resident to call police if they truly were frightened or genuinely concerned for their safety and the safety of others. However, he said the increase of calls due to the stress brought on by long periods of isolation resulted in an increased number of calls to handle these types of calls.

“An individual who drove to their day job may have found themselves working from home all day for several months and they may notice a car sitting nearby and think it is suspicious,” he said. “Yet that same car has maybe been parked there for weeks or months on end and they were rarely home during the week to notice. A husband and wife may find themselves both home all day and night and tensions rise to the point we are called because of a domestic complaint,” Insp. Neufeld added. “Or perhaps a homeowner may find the neighbour they see briefly on weekends is suddenly home all day and underlying tensions may boil over to the point we are on scene trying to diffuse the situation. I refer to these as COVID calls.”

He said several OPP officers under his command reported an increase in calls where they found themselves mediating between parents over custody orders.

“We have always received calls involving separated parents arguing about visitation orders, but now for the first time our officers were dealing with allegations from either side that they don’t want their child possibly exposed to COVID either at a parent’s workplace or the home of one of the parents,” he said. “Our officers would never yank a child out of a home, but now they are questioning if the parents are being malicious or is there a legitimate health concern for the child involved. These disputes are not our areas of expertise and it puts our officers in an awkward position.”

He provided a breakdown of charges related to the “Big 4” when it comes to traffic offences – speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving and not wearing a seatbelt. All of the categories decreased with the exception of impaired driving, which was up 13.5 per cent in 2021 with 143 charges laid. Speeding charges were down by almost 18 per cent, with 943 charges laid in 2021 and seatbelt offences were down just three per cent with 97 charges laid. The number of calls related to traffic complaints also dropped slightly from 153 to 141 between 2020 and 2021.

He said the UOV detachment did conduct more RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) checks, which is part of the reason for the additional charges.

“RIDE checks can be conducted at any time and they are meant to send a message to drivers that the police are on the lookout for impaired drivers,” he said.

He expressed concern about the increase in illegal drug use and the rise in people seeking mental health assistance. The statistics justify his concern there may be a long-term negative effect caused by COVID.

“One of the real unfortunate effects of COVID is the increase of drug use resulting in more cases of addiction and overdoses; sometimes they are lethal,” he said. “In December 2021 the OPP Detachments in Pembroke, Renfrew and Arnprior worked with several OPP units under OPERATION NIELD and took 21 people in the three areas into custody for more than 200 drug-related charges. That number eventually increased by four or five additional arrests and that was the largest drug bust in the history of the Ottawa Valley.”

He said overall the total numbers are at a four-year low and the numbers are declining and that reduction means a lower bill for the municipality. He said he is hopeful the calls for service continue their decline.

“Although the overall numbers may be down, he said the measure of true success is a sharp decline in the overall number of crime-related calls,” he concluded. “The number one goal at the UOV detachment is public safety. Everything we do links back to our commitment to public safety.”

– The Eganville Leader

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