New hires at Sarnia Police HQ aimed to ease ‘astronomical’ fear of dealing with prisoners amid opioid crisis

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Michael Van Sickle was asked to describe how stressful it is for a reception sergeant to monitor prisoners in cells at Sarnia police headquarters primarily by video amid the opioid crisis.

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Van Sickle, an acting inspector who has done the job in the past, said it was the most impactful thing they do every day.

“The fear they feel for their livelihood and to some extent the exposure of the police department is astronomical,” he told the Sarnia Police Board during the meeting last week.

The board was told that the staff sergeant visited the cellblocks once an hour to monitor the welfare of the prisoners, but between visits they could only watch video from reception with certain areas not visible.

“Fifty-nine minutes ago they could have potentially ingested something that we don’t see,” Van Sickle said.

He noted that the ability of police officers to search people they have arrested is limited by case law.

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“It’s not like a prison where they can deep search or strip search an individual to make sure they don’t have anything on them,” he said. “We don’t have that authority.”

Board member Kelly Ash said the concerns described by Van Sickle were mild compared to what she heard at a recent internal town hall meeting.

“They run out very quickly and I don’t think we have a choice here,” she said.

The choice given to the council – and ultimately approved – was to hire four special constables who will be responsible for physically monitoring prisoners at Sarnia police headquarters. Chief Derek Davis said there were other options such as having regular officers work overtime, removing road officers or using a cadet program.

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But hiring four permanent full-time special constables, with one assigned to each of the four platoons so they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was the preferred option of Sarnia police officials.

“Special constables cost less than a constable,” Davis said.

A special agent’s base salary is about $83,000 or $113,000 with benefits compared to first-class agent salaries of about $108,000 or $144,000, according to a report filed. to the council. There is also a shorter training time.

Funds remained in the 2022 operating budget to cover the four hires and they will be included in future budgets, according to the report.

Ron LeClair, counsel to council with the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, told council that they need to consider the cost of doing business.

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“You look at four special constables versus what an investigation would cost you both financially and reputationally,” he said. “You have to take that into consideration.”

He likened the decision to buying an insurance policy.

“There’s 100% nothing stopping that from happening, but you’re certainly reducing your risk substantially,” he said.

Davis said that if there were no prisoners being held at headquarters, special constables would be assigned other duties such as telephone and online reporting.

“There’s a lot of administrative work that can be done,” he said.

But he added that the welfare of prisoners and the mitigation of liability and risk were their main concern.

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