As if their job isn’t dangerous enough, Surrey RCMP now have a deadly virus to worry about. One that goes by the name of COVID-19.
However unlike other culprits, this one can’t be “caught” and sent off to jail.
“The biggest challenge of this COVID-19 is that it’s all uncharted territory for everybody. The scope and nature of what we’re dealing with is changing very rapidly and there’s something at stake for all of us,” said Surrey RCMP Media Relations Officer Elenore Sturko.
Sturko says the force has stepped up measures since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic last month, forcing thousands of Surrey businesses to press pause on their lives and seek safety at home.
As of Tuesday morning B.C had 19 COVID-19 deaths and 970 confirmed cases.
More than 750,000 cases and 40,000 deaths have been confirmed around the globe.
“Some of the new measures we’ve put in place start right from the time people call the police. If you call 9-1-1, we’ve now added to the list of questions whether or not anyone’s been sick, if they’ve traveled outside the country, or if anyone’s bee diagnosed with COVID-19.”
Sturko assures peoplewill still receive the same level of service if they have or think they may have COVID-19 but that by disclosing the information over the phone police can at least wear proper protective equipment to keep them and their families back home safe.
Other safety measures they’ve stepped up include ensuring all police cruisers have proper protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, and a N-95 mask for especially up-close encounters with the public such as arrests, roadside checks etc.
Meetings that don’t require direct face-to-face are also now being done over the phone.
“Police safety is public safety. We want to make sure we keep our officers healthy and are able to continue to keep Surrey safe.”
Sturko says a small percentage of its 843 officers went into self-isolation as a precaution over spring break but are now back on the job.
Last week the COVID-19 Complaint and Enforcement Team was formed that is comprised of bylaw officers and Surrey RCMP officers.
Together the two work seven-days-a-week patrolling businesses, event locations, parks, beaches and even recovery homes to make sure people are obeying social distancing orders and staying at least two meters apart.
Last week they did 106 patrols and issued seven warnings.
Unlike Vancouver, Surrey has chosen not to give out fines.
“I know some people find that disappointing, but the whole thing isn’t about punishing. In most of the cases that we see, it is education that’s helping bring people into compliance. We aren’t seeing people who are trying to put others at risk. Most of it has to do with a lot of them not knowing what the expectations are.”
Sturko says the team will conduct a follow-up on all cases and if things haven’t improved a fine may then be issued.
Along with social distancing enforcement, Sturko says a large focus for members is keeping vacant businesses safe.
“We are doing increased patrols. For example, vacant parking lots in front of businesses that are closed, members sit in front and they write their reports. They’re keeping an eye on the area because the last thing we want for our residents who had to worry about a business that they closed, we don’t want them to now worry that their business is being broken into while they’re not there.”
She says they haven’t seen an increase in break-and-enters since the pandemic hit.
As for where to concentrate efforts next – the stats will determine that.
“The first quarter stats come out end of this month. We’ll be looking at them very closely to see emerging concerns that might occur and areas where we are seeing diminished demand.
For example with not as many cars on the road that might mean we don’t need to have as many traffic members, but with more businesses closed we might need more people patrolling in areas where we have businesses.”
With so many unknowns (when will a vaccine be ready? Could Surrey be hit with the next wave of the virus? How many businesses are going to be closed for good?) Sturko says adaptability is the best defense.
“Our leadership team here is helping us stay nimble so we can change our responses and change the way we’re patrolling the city so we’re attacking everything from all angles.”
Lots of coffee and doughnuts doesn’t hurt either.