Winnipeg police chief declares state of emergency due to COVID-19 staff shortage

Staff shortages due to COVID-19 have created a state of emergency within the Winnipeg Police Service, Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday.

90 active cases in police service, 170 personnel on COVID-19-related leave: Chief Danny Smyth

There are 90 active cases within the Winnipeg Police Service, Chief Danny Smyth announced Wednesday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Staff shortages due to COVID-19 have led the Winnipeg Police Service to declare a state of emergency, Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday.

There are currently 90 active COVID-19 cases within the police service, and 170 personnel are on COVID-19-related leave, Smyth said at an afternoon news conference. There are roughly 1,900 people in the police service, according to its latest annual report.

"Once we started getting above 10 per cent in sick leave, we really start paying close attention to our staffing at that point, particularly in our front-line staffing," he said.

The chief declared the state of emergency under the authority of the service's collective agreement, redeploying 80 officers to shore up the ranks of general patrol. 

Officers from the community support and guns and gangs units will be moved to other areas to backfill.

If staffing pressures continue to increase, Smyth said the service might consider switching from its current structure of three shifts per day to two. 

"We still have a little ways to go for that. We're not in control of this timeline — the circumstances dictate that," he said.

The service isn't considering allowing officers with mild COVID-19 symptoms to come to work, as other sectors like health care have, Smyth said. The City of Winnipeg is also sticking to the 10-day isolation period for employees who do have COVID-19, according to a spokesperson.

Between 97 and 98 per cent of all Winnipeg police officers are fully vaccinated, according to the city councillor who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board.

And despite the state of emergency, there has been no disruption to front-line police services, said Coun. Markus Chambers.

"There is a plan in place to ensure continuity of service and that service levels will not decrease," he said.

The City of Winnipeg introduced a vaccination mandate last fall for all of its staff who interact with the public. The mandate was expanded last month to include all city staff

Those who are not fully vaccinated by next month will be subject to workplace requirements and restrictions.

The Winnipeg Police Association says officers who aren't vaccinated or who haven't declared their vaccination status are allowed to continue working if they agree to get tested every 48 hours and wear a mask at all times, beyond eating and drinking.

Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin said he believes it's unnecessary for the chief to call a state of emergency. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The union has an issue with the state of emergency in general. WPA president Maurice Sabourin said it's unnecessary, and that the current collective agreement would have allowed the service to move things around enough to cover any holes.

"My concern is that this is going to create divisiveness within our service, forcing people to change shifts," said Sabourin.

"But it also can create some panic within the citizens of Winnipeg. They may be thinking that if I call 911, and it's an emergency and there's somebody that's in danger, that the police aren't going to show up because there's not enough resources.... so that's my concern is that it's creating undue panic."

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is also filling holes due to COVID-19, but at a lesser rate. There are 77 staff in the workforce who have the virus, which represents about five per cent of the service, according to WFPS communications officer Erin Madden.

WATCH | Winnipeg police chief declares state of emergency:

Winnipeg Police Service deals with COVID-19 staff shortage

11 months ago
Duration 19:48
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth declared the state of emergency under the authority of the service's collective agreement, redeploying 80 officers to shore up the ranks of general patrol.

With files from Sam Samson