COVID-19 impacting local police operations in many ways

COVID-19 has impacted the Chatham-Kent Police Service in many ways since the pandemic began.

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COVID-19 has impacted Chatham-Kent police in dozens of ways since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The effects of the pandemic were mentioned several times in a lengthy 2020 annual report on the department’s administrative support branch presented to the Chatham-Kent Police Services Board during a virtual meeting Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Jason Chickowski, one the presenters at the meeting, told the board “2020 was like no other year” for the Chatham-Kent force, adding he was proud of the dedication and work done by everyone working for the department.

Last year, he said the Chatham-Kent department processed 513 firearms and weapons exhibits, up sharply from the 381 from 2019.

These included 170 non-restricted long guns; 24 handguns, which are restricted; 28 prohibited weapons, including certain classes of handguns and military weapons; 29 prohibited devices, including Tasers, sprays, brass knuckles and knives; 17 pellet guns, BB rifles, pistols and replica firearms; 137 ammunition exhibits; and eight bows and crossbows.

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There are various reasons for this increase in weapons, Chickowski said. One contributing factor, he said, is the general increase in gun crimes across the country that has “touched” Chatham-Kent “a little bit in the last year.” There’s also been more weapon seizures by front-line officers, he said, because of an increase in those investigations “empowered” by the guidance of police firearms examiner Const. Dwayne June.

Another factor, he added, is families turning over more firearms from dead family members.

Police quartermaster Katie Eagen, whose responsibilities include managing drug exhibits, said drug submissions for analysis have also increased in number over the years.

“Last year, we’ve seen the most increase in submissions that I’ve ever noticed, almost double,” she told the board.

In speaking with her counterparts across the province, the same trend is being seen by police services across Ontario, she added.

According to the report, 33 per cent of the drugs seized in Chatham-Kent were methamphetamine, 17 per cent were fentanyl, 16 percent were fresh marijuana plants, nine per cent was cocaine; and one per cent was processed pot. Heroin, crack cocaine, oxycodone, hydromorphone and psilocybin rounding out the balance of the seized drugs.

As with most aspects of policing, “the pandemic was the greatest challenge and created the greatest amount of change at court services,” said Acting Sgt. Nelson Das Neves, supervisor of court services.

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The 821 in-person prisoners dealt with at the courthouse was “down substantially due the restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 in 2020,” he said.

Conversely, the number of prisoners appearing via audio and video increased significantly, resulting in approximately 4,200 prisoners being processed, which is equal to the three-year average, he added.

Das Neves said there have been challenges collecting court-ordered DNA samples and fingerprints. Since most prisoners are not at the courthouse when these orders are given, they have be tracked down rather than have the process take place while they’re present, he said.

However, the officer said one efficiency gained is the reduced movement of prisoners from detention facilities outside of Chatham-Kent, “which reduces liability and risk for everybody.”

Chickowski said there were far less police checks requested last year, noting the number of checks for volunteers dropped by 1,000 to 1,098.

“We’re hoping that once we get through this, people will want to get back out in their community and engage with their non-profits and local organizations,” he said.

When it comes to registering online to do have a police check, the local police service has best uptake, per capita, in Canada, Chickowski said. He said nearly 5,000 police checks came through online requests, “which creates efficiencies for our staff and it’s a convenience for the community.”

eshreve@postmedia.com

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