Sudbury chief weighs in on policing challenges during pandemic
Everyone has been confused about what exactly is considered essential — including police
It's been one of the most challenging years ever in his policing career, says Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen. Nothing in his 35-plus years of policing has helped him to foresee the challenges that came with the pandemic — from keeping a community healthy, keeping police staff healthy and trying to keep the organization afloat.
He says the pandemic has been problematic for the force on every level.
"It's the first time that somebody working on the front line could bring danger home to their family, just by contracting COVID. And so we have to make sure our people are healthy, so that they can help everybody else."
Helping the community involved education and enforcement, but that came with a unique set of challenges, "given the fact it's brand new legislation every time, there is no case law to set precedent and a lot of it is open to interpretation," he told Morning North CBC host Markus Schwabe.
Everyone has been confused about what exactly is considered essential — including police. So they've tried to muddle through, educating themselves, and the public.
"Certainly there's been some formal warnings, but there has been enforcement," Pedersen said.
"We've done over 60 separate pieces of enforcement over the course of the year, but primarily over 1,300 people have been warned and educated."
Pedersen gave a few examples, including one where a couple of seniors in town had some friends over to help move a gazebo.
"I think probably every one of your listeners would say, 'please don't give a $750 ticket to a senior' (They didn't). But they truly didn't understand that they couldn't have, at that point in time, friends and neighbours over to help them."
Responding to those in emotional distress
Mental health stresses in the community during the pandemic tested the changing dynamic of police response to people in extreme distress.
"Our our position has always been de-escalation ... talk to the person, talk to the people. These are people in distress. We have access to a forensic psychiatrist. We have access to crisis negotiators. We bring them out," Pedersen said.
He says they are continuing to tweak how that response is rolled out, including "changing who is responding and how services are responding to these [calls]."
With some funding, police have developed a partnership with Sudbury's hospital to assemble a mobile crisis response team "that will be coming to life soon and will continue to evolve."
The police service itself is also evolving during these extraordinary times.
Pedersen says the service has created four specific working groups — with external members on each — that are focusing on anti-racism, gender equity, community response to mental health, and police members' mental health.
With files from Markus Schwabe