Nova Scotia police grapple with influx of COVID-19 compliance calls
'Where this is all new, there's an education piece that needs to take place'
Nova Scotia police forces have been dealing with a flood of calls this week from concerned citizens blowing the whistle on people not complying with physical distancing regulations.
The provincial government declared a state of emergency on Sunday, authorizing police to enforce self-isolation and physical distancing orders under the Health Protection Act.
But despite the influx in complaints, Nova Scotia RCMP, Halifax Regional Police, the Truro Police Service and Cape Breton Regional Police have yet to fully carry out their new powers. They have not issued a ticket.
Halifax police Const. John MacLeod said it had received 160 calls as of Thursday related to non-compliance with the emergency order.
MacLeod said while a few of the calls were related to people not self-isolating, most were complaints of people gathering in groups larger than five, or not staying more than two metres from each other.
He said police respond to those complaints by educating the groups about the new regulations, and people have been very co-operative.
"Fortunately for us, we've been able to speak with those folks and have been able to relay the concerns raised by those that have seen them and make people aware of what the recommendations are in case they're not," said MacLeod.
"We're really trying to join in with our partners around the province just to kind of spread that awareness so that people know what [gathering in groups] could lead to."
'Let's make no mistake about it, people are afraid'
RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said although she could not quantify the number of complaints, Mounties across the province have received many COVID-19-related calls from the public.
"Let's make no mistake about it, people are afraid and when they see someone that they think might not be complying, they're getting in touch with us," said Clarke.
The Cape Breton Regional Police said the force has received 120 calls related to COVID-19 since it began tracking them on March 18.
Of those, 30 were questions or clarifications around the rules for self-isolation and physical distancing, as well as complaints about people not adhering to those rules.
In an email, Desiree Magnus, the police service's communications officer, told the CBC that officers followed up on all those calls to ensure compliance, but have not issued any tickets.
Many calls don't require police
Magnus said many of the calls did not require police attention. She said people looking for information about the virus are encouraged to call the CBRM COVID-19 information line at 902-563-2276, or email email@example.com.
She also said people contacting police with COVID concerns should use the non-emergency number, 902-563-5151, and not 911.
Meanwhile in Truro, N.S., police Chief David MacNeil said the force received roughly a dozen calls on Monday, and the number has declined each day since then.
He said some of the complaints have related to businesses not complying with physical distancing regulations, and in one case, an employee complained about the cleanliness of their work station.
"For the most part, people are very receptive," said MacNeil of police following up with business owners. "Where this is all new, there's an education piece that needs to take place."
MacLeod said despite the state of emergency and the push from government officials over the past few weeks for people to stay home, the call volume at Halifax Regional Police has not changed as a result.
Up to 500 calls per day
The force receives an average of 300-500 calls per day. MacLeod said it appears the societal changes implemented as a result of the outbreak have not resulted in a sudden drop in crime.
"But with the recommendations and the way things have been rolling out on a daily basis … those circumstances could certainly change over the next few days," said MacLeod.
Clarke said Nova Scotia RCMP have seen a slight increase in the "types of calls we would normally associate with people being together for extended periods of time."
She said that includes domestic disputes.
"It's not a dramatic increase, but from what I can see every day, there are probably a little bit more of those," said Clarke.
Clarke said many complaints about people not complying with the COVID-19 rules are coming in by phone or through social media, but the public is also calling 911.
She wanted to remind people that 911 is for emergencies only.
"We're a little bit concerned about the 911 system, and we need to preserve that just for emergencies," said Clarke.
Under the state of emergency, individuals can be fined $1,000 for each violation of the Health Protection Act. Businesses and corporations can be fined $7,500 for each violation, and for each subsequent day.
If you have a complaint about someone not following physical distancing or self-isolation rules, call dispatch at your local RCMP detachment or police force.
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With files from Wendy Martin