OPP increasing community presence in face of pandemic

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The Wellington OPP detachment has increased its community presence and introduced measures to ensure staff safety as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve asked for a greater presence in communities, especially in light of businesses being closed and being closed by virtue of order and not because they choose to be. So you should see an increased presence,” interim detachment commander Paul Richardson told members of county council at a special teleconference meeting on March 31.

“Our folks here are doing fairly well. We’re staffed up and we’re having no issues with staffing internally,” said Richardson.

The meeting was held several hours before Western Region OPP announced two uniformed Wellington OPP officers were diagnosed with COVID-19. The local officers are in isolation and are recovering. Officials say the OPP was made aware of the diagnoses on March 29 and 30.

In his update to council, Richardson detailed safety measures being taken by the detachment in light of the pandemic.

While there is staff at the OPP administration facilities, most administrative personnel are working from home and Richardson said public access is restricted.

“The doors are locked and in order get in you have to call into the building or to the communication centre and go through a screening process before you’ll be allowed in to the building and that protects our administrative staff,” the inspector explained.

“In addition, if you call the police, if you call the OPP, you’ll have to go through that same screening process before our officers arrive,” Richardson said.

“We’re also trying to defer as many calls as we can, to do those over the phone to avoid exposure. If officers are required to go to a call and there are indications that there could be COVID issues all our officers have been provided with protective personal equipment that they can don and keep themselves safe.

“And our supplies of that equipment are actually relatively abundant at this point and we’re hoping to maintain those.”

Richardson said among the “burning questions” about the current situation is the police handling of provincially-declared emergency measures and the Quarantine Act.

“In terms of emergency measures, we’re funnelling those calls through the organization to our field support unit to obtain the information and we’re hoping to go through a process of discussion and education with anybody who may or may not be in volition of that legislation and we’re hoping that satisfies any concerns,” Richardson stated.

“If we needed to go the route of enforcement we would certainly do that in consultation with the municipality and determine an appropriate course of action going forward.”

He added, “The Quarantine Act itself requires that we confer with the quarantine officer that is designated nationally. So again we would do the education … and the discussion hoping that has the desired effect and if there needs to be an enforcement process we would confirm with the officer and again, in consultation with the municipality and to make sure we determine the best course going forward.”

Warden Kelly Linton stated, “We really appreciate all the OPP is doing to help us out at this really interesting time that we find ourselves in.”