Policing during COVID 19: 91 OPP officers have tested positive since the pandemic began
By Canadian Press
By Canadian Press
March 18, 2021 – Since the pandemic began in March 2020, 91 members of the Ontario Provincial Police ( OPP) have tested positive for COVID-19, with 12 members currently on leaves of absence due to the virus, according to Act/Sgt. Ann Collins, media relations at East Region OPP.
In the OPP East region, a total of eight police officers have tested positive.
“The health and safety of our officers and members of the public is paramount, and this includes the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) where a minimum physical distance of two metres cannot be maintained,” Collins, OPP East Region community safety coordinator, said in an email.
The Smiths Falls Police Service have reported zero COVID-19 cases in their organization.
“We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had some close contact, resulting in staff having to isolate. That has put a strain on our front-line services,” said Const. Aaron Tompkins, Smiths Falls Police community service officer.
Tompkins explained that the safety risk of police officers has been elevated with COVID-19. “We’re having to go within the six-feet bubble, we still have to put someone in restraints (and) search them,” he said.
“There’s no perfect way to go about it. (We try to) limit contact as much as possible, do it as quickly and safely (as possible),” Tompkins added.
The OPP have been in contact with the local public health unit and continue to take all safety measures, including physically distancing from other officers and members of the public, and wearing masks.
Some added measures the OPP have implemented include limiting the public’s access to the OPP detachment, as well as ensuring every cruiser is wiped down before and after every officer’s shift.
“In traffic stops, we will maintain distance from the driver and wear PPE. Other than that, it is business as usual,” Collins added. “In some situations, however, officers are required to take immediate action to ensure public safety, based on the nature of the situation.”
Police officers already wear over 10 pounds of equipment _ a bulletproof vest, belt, firearms, pepper spray, baton, radio, extra ammunition, handcuffs and cut-resistant gloves, and now they have to add PPE equipment to the list.
Tompkins also talked about the mental health struggles that police officers go through. “Working from home is not an option for us. We haven’t stopped (working).”
Asked whether additional funding has been given to the police for mental wellness support, Tompkins said there’s been “nothing official. We do have internal mental health supports in place for our staff.”
CHARGES AND ARRESTS
“We, in (the) OPP East Region, have laid 40 charges and issued 42 warnings,” Collins said regarding COVID-19.
In terms of enforcement, all police, special constables, and First Nations constables in Ontario have the authority to shut down any gatherings that do not comply with capacity requirements, and to clear the premises where those gatherings are held, according to Collins.
In Smiths Falls, Tompkins said they’ve had one arrest—an individual refusing to go with the store owner’s physical distancing policy.
“It’s hard when people are not following protocols, when somebody is blatantly breaking the health guideline,” Tompkins said.
“We ask for anyone who believes a gathering is not following the law, to report it to their local municipal bylaw enforcement authorities or police service. We encourage everyone to do their part to support our health-care system and workers at this difficult time, and minimize the impact of COVID-19 in all our communities,” Collins added.
Tompkins said he believes the Smiths Falls’ community has done a great job.
“I hear the nightmare (stories) in other communities. We don’t have that here. It has made our job as easy as possible,” he said.