Education is the Moose Jaw Police Service’s preferred method when enforcing pandemic-related public health orders, but handing out tickets is the next option for those who disobey.
The organization received more than 100 phone calls last year about potential violations of health orders — such as large gatherings or not wearing a mask — and issued seven fines to people for not adhering to those rules.
“What those numbers tell us is that the vast majority of people become compliant once we speak with them and we’re able to educate,” Police Chief Rick Bourassa said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we had reassigned officers to go to different places of the city and educate (people such as business owners) along with the (help of) public health folks.
“We were very proactive during this time. I have to say, we are very pleased with the levels of compliance in our community.”
The topic of enforcing health-related orders was part of a larger conversation about total crime statistics for 2020, which the Board of Police Commissioners discussed at Grant Hall on Jan. 12. Although not part of the statistics yet, the police service intends to add a category in 2021 that records how many pandemic-related calls it receives and how many fines it hands out.
Residents did a good job with how they celebrated New Year’s Eve, said Bourassa, who joined officers for that evening’s night shift. The police service received only one call about a supposedly big gathering in a home, but police determined the household simply contained one large family.
He added if residents did gather, they did so outside at a safe distance or in other responsible ways.
When the pandemic lockdown and restrictions began, there was concern about how the police would enforce the public health orders, said Mayor Fraser Tolmie, chairman of the police board. There were also discussions about not wanting to turn into a police state when enforcing those orders.
The organization has discussed that concern, said Bourassa. When the state of emergency was declared in March, the government empowered the police to enforce those orders. The Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) then began working closely with the health inspectors, who have also taken on enforcement responsibility.
“Because of the severity of this, it is quite appropriate for us to be involved in that enforcement side. But again, we’ve had to enforce very, very seldom,” he continued, noting enforcement is not always about laying charges but is about educating and informing people.
“Only in those rare occasions where there isn’t compliance, where there’s a stubborn obstinance and there’s no other way to deal with it, then we move forward with the enforcement piece,” added Bourassa.
The next Board of Police Commissioners’ meeting is Thursday, Feb. 11.