These unique circumstances, require that Employers work with Associations to determine the best course of action in protecting their members, as well as the communities they serve. As safety remains the top priority for all Police Services, many have implemented Pandemic Protocols to help monitor this ever-evolving situation. These include new procedures for dealing with the public, as well as their employees, in an effort to keep everyone safe.
Police employers have adjusted the way in which Police Officers and Civilian Members interact with the public in relation to non-emergency situations. A number of police facilities have closed their buildings to the public to help reduce social contact, and where an officer is required to attend a non emergency scene in person, the caller may be asked some non-intrusive screening questions related to the COVID-19 health risks. If an officer attends a scene, they may be wearing gloves or masks upon arrival, which have been provided by their Employer.
In order to limit the contact that officers are having with the public, and to mitigate any potential exposure to COVID-19, some Employers have implemented procedures to process some calls for service over the telephone, in lieu of having an officer physically attend. This process will not be effective for all calls, and as such, each call is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Associations across Ontario are working with the Services to ensure the safe working conditions for all members. As a result of this, most non-essential services that the Police provide, such as freedom-of-information requests, have been suspended to help protect the members and reduce contact with the public. This also assists in redirecting manpower where it is needed most.
During this unprecedented time, it is imperative that both the Police Associations, as well as the Police Services work collaboratively. Associations have presented a number of recommendations to their Boards which include, mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever there is an expectation of possible exposure. PPE should not be considered a luxury item, and should be supplied to all Front-Line Police Officers as part of the uniform.
Police Officers must interact with the Public, and it is clear that they need to feel safe and protected while doing their jobs. The Association has voiced its concern over parades also; protocols like this, which require an increased number of individuals to be together in a confined space, should be re-evaluated and possibly eliminated until this Pandemic is over. In addition, Police Employers should consider staggering lunch hours, and the possibility of alternating shifts, in order to limit the number of officers overlapping at any one period of time.
Police Officers frequently accompany both, fire service and emergency medical services when they attend a call. As such, there is an increased risk to our first responders of exposure to COVID-19. It is during this initial interaction with someone that any first responder could be unknowingly exposed. The Ontario Government recognizes this risk; Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliot, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, announced on April 5, 2020 that the government of Ontario was making an emergency order permitting all first responders access to private health information regarding the COVID – 19 status of individuals. The Deputy Premier stated that this is just one tool that we can give our first responders who put their lives on the line every day to protect Ontarians.
Deputy Premier Elliott stated;
“During this pandemic, it is crucial that our first responders have access to this critical information when they are preparing to respond to an emergency in order to protect themselves and the public and help stop the spread of this virus. Once the declaration of emergency is lifted, this data will be made inaccessible.”
We will continue to advise Associations on this evolving situation, and commend all first responders, and their families, for their continued sacrifice, and commitment to making our communities safer.