Mission’s RCMP detachment has been well-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the speedy initiation of the regional emergency-response planning, which started months ago.
Apart from a few cases of staff having to self-isolate as a precaution, the 58 employees at the detachment have largely avoided the resource crunch that other public and private institutions have faced, said Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for Mission’s police force.
“When an event happens like this that affects multiple jurisdictions at the same time, we actually have an emergency operations centre particular to the RCMP,” Berze said. “At the end of February, this is starting to take on a different measure, like on a global scale.”
The emergency operations centre, based out of Surrey, is a organizational system in place for dealing with disaster-type events that helps co-ordinate neighbouring RCMP detachments. In emergency scenarios ranging from wildfires to flooding, the centre helps local detachments with resourcing, supplies, supply lines, operational plans and communications with the federal government.
“If there is a massive disaster, like what happens if, say, all of rural Mission were to catch on fire and the city had to be evacuated, how are we going to provide a policing response to that disaster?” he said. “I can’t go into the particular plans, but we have something in place… They’re pretty specific; we share those with our partner agencies to make sure they all line up and overlap.”
Berze said the department has been able to maintain most of their day-to-day operations, but there have been specific changes dictated by provincial health guidelines which have helped keep their front-line officers safe from COVID-19.
“You can be asymptomatic and completely infectious. So we really have to treat everybody, at this stage, like they could be infectious.”
The detachment has closed its front office; upped its protocols for using personal protective equipment (PPE) and made it more available; increased the frequency of their cleaning and decontamination regimens; put out public awareness messaging on social media platforms; and changed how they respond to certain non-emergency calls.
The measures are all in an effort to try to limit the spread of the disease as much as possible while still abiding by the RCMP’s policing standards, Berze said.
“If you had a propane tank stolen from your back deck, you may not have an officer showing up, going through it with a fine-tooth comb and trying to find DNA evidence – that’s probably not going to happen, for your safety as well as ours. There’s going to be an investigation, as much as there can be, from an arm’s length,” he said. “If the call involves some kind of public safety or emergency aspect, then nothing has changed in regards to our response.”
But that’s not to say that non-emergency investigations, such as property crime and drug offences, are not taking place.
“It’s just a matter of how it gets done,” Berze said.
“If there is a [crime] scene… that requires to be processed and there is potential evidence there, we’re going to find a way, but it’s just thinking outside of the box and keeping the public health officers’ recommendation in mind,” he said.
Berze said Mission police are making an effort to be visible in the public as much as possible to discourage criminals from taking advantage of the city’s empty streets while people are indoors.
The officers are well-trained in risk assessment, and, because the detachment has not seen large shortages of PPE, they are well-equipped for mitigating the potential spread of the virus, if close contact with people becomes necessary, Berze said.
“We haven’t really felt a big resource crunch here. We have contingency plans in place, but we haven’t really had to access them.”
Berze said that the morale of Mission’s officers is high, considering the circumstances.
“When you all have the same kind of training and you wear the same uniform, you’re all on the same team. I can’t speak for every detachment out there – I can only speak for Mission – but I know when something big happens, everybody pulls together.”
He encourages the pubic to continue to follow the provincial health guidelines for social distancing.
“We’re abiding by those things and encouraging the public to abide by them as well. Stay home, stay inside, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”