The current coronavirus situation may be starting to have an impact on crime in Smithers.
“Call volume is slightly down, but call severity is slightly up, so it kind of balances itself out,” said Staff Sgt. Terry Gillespie, commander of the Smithers RCMP detachment.
The number of calls last week (March 15 – 21) compared to the same period last year decreased by approximately 10 per cent while criminal code violations were up by 5.5 per cent, he reported.
While police can’t be 100 per cent certain if the stats have a direct link to COVID-19, they are taking the pandemic very seriously.
Front line response has been unaffected so far, Gillespie said, but the detachment has closed its public counter curtailing administrative services such as criminal record checks. Some office staff are also working from home to reduce the number of people in the building.
Police officers, of course, do not have that option, so members in the field are observing enhanced safety protocols.
“We have the P-100 masks, so even higher than the N-95, and the gloves and the safety glasses so if we’re dealing with a sick individual or someone we suspect may have been exposed, then we’re masking up,” Gillespie said. “And then we just have the same thing everyone else is doing, we’re washing our hands all the time, sanitizing everything, increasing our sanitation protocols and that type of thing as well.”
He does not want people to be alarmed, however.
“Don’t panic if you do see us with our masks on, it’s just a precautionary thing for us, it doesn’t mean the end of the world is coming or anything like that,” he said.
While the detachment is still at full-strength, he does, however, anticipate a possible reduction in front line members as the pandemic progresses.
“Of course, we’ve prepared business continuity planning for when our front line starts to become impacted to ensure that core service delivery is unaffected,” he said.
Those plans include protocols for a reduction of up to 75 per cent of the force based on a priority system that categorizes calls on four levels with priority one being the most serious violent crimes and priority four being trivial complaints such as minor fender benders, for example.
“Even if we lose 75 per cent of our front line or something like that, priority one and two should be unaffected, but the public may notice greater response time for priority three and four and perhaps even non-attendance at a priority four depending on how seriously we’re affected,” Gillespie said.
Meanwhile, the Northern Society for Domestic Peace (NSDP) has not seen an increase in demand for its services, but executive director Carol Seychuk said they are prepared for a possible uptick.
“We understand that families are going to experience a lot of stress, so we’re anticipating that that may occur for families and individuals,” she said.
The important thing is for people to do is seek help if they are struggling to cope with the financial or isolating effects of the pandemic response.
“I really encourage families to reach out if they’re having a difficult time,” she said. “It’s understandable and if it’s getting some tools to cope with that and to be kind to one another… and if you have any concerns or you feel unsafe, reach out to the local crisis lines and shelters.”
Although NSDP is still available to support people in distress, in the interest of protecting their own workers the offices are closed to the public and they are only providing counselling services via telephone or video conferencing.
However, their transition house is still operating and they are prepared to take people in although with enhanced screening protocols and contingency plans for isolating clients who may be sick or may have been exposed to the virus.