The North Delta Reporter asked Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord to tell us about the department’s response to COVID-19 and how officers and staff are coping with the ongoing pandemic. Here’s what he had to say…
NDR: This is a stressful time for everyone, especially for frontline workers. How are DPD officers and civilian staff coping during the pandemic, and what services are available to help them at this time?
Chief Dubord: That’s a great question, thank you. We know if we don’t look after our team they will not provide the level of service we expect them to provide to the community. Ensuring a healthy workforce that can manage uncertainty and their wellness starts with communication.
When the pandemic was first declared, one of the critical tasks was making sure we were getting enough information to our officers and police staff. Like everywhere else, so much changed very quickly, and communicating daily and sometimes several times a day about the changes and new procedures was key. Our deployment model changed to maintain service levels and protect our employees by mitigating exposure.
We worked with the province to provide rapid testing of our officers to keep them available for deployment and provided mental health and counseling resources to alleviate fear and worry. This was all while increasing response capacity and being flexible to manage new responsibilities, like assisting bylaw officers regarding some of the social distancing complaints, or investigating re-sellers of medical grade personal protection equipment.
We’ve had incredible support from the city and the community. Daycare options were provided to officers and staff with young children and our buildings are being cleaned on an hourly basis. All this to ensure the essential work we do could carry on.
It does go without saying that like everybody else, our officers and staff are definitely feeling the impact of this virus whether that be isolation, stress, or worries over family and loved ones. We’re all in this together.
What steps has the department taken to protect frontline officers and the public from the virus?
Our officers are provided with multiple levels of personal protective equipment for their work in the community. Besides the usual gloves and isogel cleaners, all operational police officers are provided with four levels of face protection each with a different purpose and capacity. They have surgical masks, N95 masks, Bauer face shields and P100 respirators — that is commonly referred to as a gas mask.
I appreciate this question as it gives me a chance to do a shout out to our fleet manager. As you can imagine, police cars go 24-7 and are driven by different police officers and different people are in the back seats every day. This requires our cars to be thoroughly sanitized. A system has been developed to ensure we keep each officer assigned to just one vehicle during their shift and then vehicles are then thoroughly cleaned with a fogger-type device once a week.
Meetings are being conducted remotely just as is happening elsewhere. We are practicing physical distancing. The dispatch staff at E-COMM  ask whether any callers are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and this allows officers to wear PPE if need be. Some of our officers are working from alternative locations, such as our closed community police offices. Ensuring officers are kept apart from each other helps us reduce the spread of the virus if someone were exposed and contagious.
Regarding protecting the public — any officer or staff who start to experience any symptoms that could be COVID-19 are immediately isolated at home.
|DPD vehicles are being thorough sanitized on a regular basis, including specialized cleaning with a fogger-type device, to help keep officers and the public safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Delta Police Department photo)|
Have any officers or staff been diagnosed with COVID-19? How did or would the department deal with a COVID-19 diagnosis in its ranks?
Thankfully no, that hasn’t happened as of today. However, we’re prepared to deal with such an eventuality, and that’s one of the reasons why we are trying to keep our staff and officers as separated as possible.
We’ve had 24 officers to date tested for COVID-19, and fortunately all have come back negative.
We have also established a decontamination process when our officers do come into close contact with someone who is COVID-19 symptomatic.
Has the DPD’s focus on community policing and “No Call Too Small” had to change in the face of social distancing requirements and the like?
Our commitment to this community is still that we will guide our deployment by “No Call Too Small,” however there have been some changes to how we deliver this service. Some calls where typically we’d send an officer to meet face-to-face with someone, if there is no evidence to be gathered at the scene, we are calling the complainant and taking information over the phone. That’s for the protection of the public as well as our officers. But please be assured we are still taking those calls, just differently.
Our Victim Services workers are now conducting nearly all their support work on the phone, rather than meeting with clients.
We’re switching now to virtual community interactions whenever we can, such as participating in the mayor’s virtual town hall each week, and we are looking to do more of our own virtual events. A team is working on how we can provide an option for people who wish to make reports online. I hope we can see this start in the coming months.
What DPD services and programs have had to be cancelled or altered to fit the current situation?
I have to say I tremendously miss connecting with the community, our partners and our stakeholders at the community events and programs I attend. Although most, if not all, of these programs and events have been cancelled or postponed, we are finding a way to connect through technology.
I recently connected with all of Delta’s faith groups and many business associations. I will continue to reach out and identify ways in which the DPD can create open lines of communication with those we are not able to interact with at community events.
Our latest challenge is trying to figure out how to hold more events virtually, such as Police Day and potentially even our student police academy.
We’ve all seen posts on social media meant to shame people who aren’t practicing social distancing or who are otherwise acting in a less-than-neighbourly fashion. Are you getting many of those sorts of complaints here in Delta?
The DPD pandemic plan called for the creation of an Operational Support Team to respond to the different types of requests received by the DPD. This included proactive patrols in parks, industrial areas, shopping malls and grocery stores.
The majority of social distancing complaints go to Delta Bylaws in the first instance. However, this Operational Support Team is patrolling the city to deal with Public Health Order complaints and responding to physical distancing, particularly if there’s another element involved, such as consuming liquor in a public place.
Has there been a change in the number and/or types of calls the DPD receives since the pandemic hit?
Yes, we have seen a change. In the first month we saw a decrease in calls of most types, but we’re starting to see numbers rise again. And we’re starting to see more calls related to mental health and also familial or relationship issues. People cooped up together for long periods – if the relationship had some problems prior to the pandemic, some of those issues are coming up to the surface more often. And of course many are under a lot more stress.
Vancouver has recently been in the media regarding business break and enters. Fortunately we are seeing a 30 per cent or more decrease in these crimes. Residential break and enters are down substantially this year as well when compared to last year.
However thefts from auto are slightly up, and I remind everyone to ensure that you do not leave anything visible in your vehicle, even if it is parked in your driveway.
Is responding to calls for service and investigating crime different now than it was before COVID-19?
Definitely. Our officers have been given instruction on everything from how to ride with two people in a car, to looking for precursors, to people who may be infected by the virus.
The word has spread very quickly among criminals that if you say you are infected with COVID-19 you could have a better chance of getting off, or not being taken into custody. This creates a situation where officers who are doing their work are often dealing with the uncertainty of whether someone is actually sick, or just claiming to be sick to escape the arm of the law.
There have been several cases where a person being dealt with by our officers coughs or spits at officers claiming they have COVID-19. Our team has worked with the Crown and are prepared to pursue assault charges for any person who coughs or spits on police officers or others.
What kinds of shows of support have Delta police seen from residents and local businesses, and what do they mean to the members when they see them?
I have worked in three different police departments and with many different communities, but without question the DPD’s support from this community is unparalleled.
People have provided hand sanitizer, they have left us painted rocks at the department, or kids have done chalk drawings of support outside their homes. Businesses have reached out to offer support in a variety of ways – but I want to emphasize that as grateful as we are for that support, we don’t want to promote the idea that as police officers we are doing a job that’s more important than anyone else.
There are so many doing vital work, and putting themselves at risk to do it. Whether it’s the grocery store clerk, the truck drivers getting needed supplies in, the health care workers keeping us well, or the great folks at Deltassist getting much needed help to where it needs to go — there are many frontline and essential workers out there. I want to say thanks to you all, for your valuable contributions.