London

Union official highlights nature of policing amid public health crisis

The head of the union representing London cops is shedding light on the nature of policing amid a public health crisis, after an officer was found guilty in the death of a woman who was high on meth.

Cops more likely to call paramedics after officer found guilty in intoxicated woman's death

Rick Robson, the executive director of the London Police Association, says people will be waiting even longer for their calls to police to be answered, since they'll be spending more time getting medical assessments for individuals using drugs. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

The head of the union representing London police officers is shedding light on the nature of policing amid a public health crisis, after an officer was found guilty in the death of a woman who was high on meth.

London Police Association Executive Director Rick Robson anticipates the number of calls waiting for an officer to respond will now double or triple, as police will be tied up getting medical assessments for people who are on drugs.

"We're in this unprecedented time where the average calls for service is hovering around 45, and some days it's up over 100," he explained.

"People that are waiting six or eight hours for an officer to respond to a domestic or a break and enter are going to wait two or three days, because there's just not going to be the resources to deal with all these medical issues and policing issues," said Robson. 

Police officers are increasingly being called upon to deal with people who are sleeping rough, experiencing mental health issues or are addicted to drugs.

Heightened police patrols in London's downtown core began two weeks ago, as part of a concentrated effort by the city to ease tension between vulnerable people and downtown merchants.

Guilty verdict has an impact

But a guilty verdict against Const. Nicholas Doering impacts the way officers interact with people who are intoxicated by drugs. It will put even more pressure on the system, said Robson.

Last week, Doering was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to Debra Chrisjohn, 39, from Oneida Nation of the Thames.

Doering had been responding to a call about a woman running in the middle of the street and trying to get inside peoples' vehicles in September 2016.

During the trial, the court heard that a paramedic who came to the scene told Doering that her vital signs would be "out of whack" because of her drug use, and he'd have to spend hours waiting with her in hospital.

Doering didn't ask for a medical assessment.

Chrisjohn's condition deteriorated as he drove her out of the city and transferred her to OPP custody on an outstanding warrant. As her condition worsened, provincial police called paramedics and she was taken to hospital where she died.

After the verdict, London Police Association sent a letter to members encouraging officers who doubt the health of an individual to "immediately arrange" for a medical assessment or to bring the person to hospital.

Robson said officers will be less likely to use their judgment.

"Their judgment has been wholly dismissed as not appropriate," he said. "I don't know how we respond in any other way but to seek medical intervention."

Strain on other institutions

Other police associations have reached out to London Police Association to ask for guidance in the wake of the verdict, said Robson. 

As officers struggle to keep on top of service calls, Robson said the public health crisis is putting a strain on other institutions too. 

"This has the potential to not only bring policing to a grinding halt, but health care to a grinding halt. If ambulances and emergency rooms are tied up assisting people who are intoxicated by drugs, they're not going to be available for other emergencies," he said.

There aren't enough paramedics, hospitals, doctors or nurses to ensure the health of vulnerable people intoxicated by drugs, he said. 

About the Author

Liny Lamberink

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Liny Lamberink is a reporter in London, ON. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca