Coronavirus: Edmonton police consider ‘all options’ to mitigate overcrowding in jails

The Edmonton Police Service is warning the public about offenders using coronavirus in scams. Charles Taylor / Global News

In addition to initiating numerous safety protocols for officers in response COVID-19, the Edmonton Police Service is also asking members to explore “all options” to mitigate overcrowding and unsafe conditions in jails.

In a statement to Global News, an EPS spokesperson said this is an unprecedented crisis and the force is committed to ensuring the safety of the public.

READ MORE: Canada’s prisons preparing for coronavirus outbreak, want to limit visits

“In an effort to mitigate overcrowding and unsafe conditions in jails during the COVID-19 outbreak, our members are encouraged to explore all of the options at their disposal when dealing with an accused,” Patrycja Mokrzan said.

“In some cases, this may mean an exercise in discretion to protect health concerns.

“Where continued detention is necessary for the protection or safety of the public, the offender will not be released.

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“Where the health or welfare of the accused is concerned, the EPS is committed to providing timely medical treatment where appropriate.”

Alberta Justice stressed safety of the public, staff and inmates is incredibly important in correctional and remand centres.

“Correctional Services Division of Alberta Justice and Solicitor General has had a longtime policy that authorizes the temporary release of low-risk, non-violent offenders that meet certain criteria, including medical need — such as the spread of virus — while still ensuring those with serious charges are in custody,” Katherine Thompson, a spokesperson for Justice and Solicitor General, explained in an email to Global News.

“All potentially-applicable inmates are reviewed to determine their suitability for temporary absence and their risk to public safety. This policy does not apply to individuals who have been remanded into custody.”

She also said offenders serving time on weekends would be held responsible by serving house arrest.

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“Effective March 20, offenders serving the custody portion of their intermittent sentences on weekends will be on house arrest with their conditions closely monitored by community corrections.

“This measure will mitigate the amount of individuals entering and exiting provincial correctional and remand centres as part of helping to avoid the spread of virus.”

READ MORE: Alberta to provide update on COVID-19 response 1 day after public health emergency declared

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Edmonton police said the department had initiated safety protocols for its members and the general public in light of COVID-19.

The EPS is minimizing interaction with people at some public facilities. Several employees are self-isolating, either after returning from travel outside Canada or because they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The department is looking at its response plan.

“Our mission at this time is to maintain all policing services as per usual,” EPS Supt. Dean Hilton said.

“As we move through, we’re looking at two key themes: one being prevention and ensuring our membership are fully aware of ways to safeguard themselves against this virus and No. 2 is to mitigate any illness that we have observed in any of our members and take preventive measures to prevent any further spread.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edmonton looking at property tax, utility bill deferrals in light of COVID-19

EPS, Occupational Health Services and its nurses are working with employees who have self-isolated and providing members with information on safety protocols and healthy practices.

When people call 911 or the complaint line, Hilton said evaluators will ask three questions related to COVID-19 to prepare front-line officers to respond.

Callers will be asked if they’ve been in close proximity to any affected individuals, if they’ve travelled outside Canada in the last 30 days, and if they’ve experienced any flu-like symptoms in the last three days.

“Basically, members will be responding as per usual protocols,” Hilton said. “The only difference being they will practice some social distancing.

“They also will have some PPE — some personal protection equipment — available should the situation dictate a necessity to don that.”

Hilton said the city of Edmonton has demonstrated in the past that it is resilient in the face of crisis.

“A pandemic is obviously challenging us all and we expect the public to band together, practice good health, hygiene, social distancing, and do our part to try and mitigate the spread of this nasty virus,” he said.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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