It should come as a surprise to no one that 2021 was one for the books in policing.
December and even annual statistics presented at the Bradford West Gwillimbury/Innisfil Police Services Board meeting in late January showed a marked increase in both domestic assaults and impaired driving.
Deputy Chief John Van Dyke who reviewed the figures, started by noting there was an increase in mental health calls of 13.5 per cent in 2021 at 299 calls for service, over the 261 calls received in 2020.
“Let’s be honest, the pandemic is taking its toll on a lot of people,” Van Dyke said in early February.
“It’s a perfect storm of people with mental health issues and added stress of being perhaps isolated. Perhaps some are having financial difficulty because they are without work or work has been sporadic – or they’ve had to take a pay cut. With the isolation, a lot of people, unfortunately, turn to drugs and alcohol, which tends to exacerbate mental health problems not make them better – and it’s just increased our workload. People are just stressed out.”
Van Dyke pointed to an increase of domestic assault cases of 704 last year versus 666 in 2020 as further evidence of the pandemic’s toll on families.
“I would say growing communities and COVID are attributable for sure. As communities grow, which both Bradford and Innisfil are, it’s pretty natural to see some of these numbers go up. But that’s a pretty big increase in one year, so that’s definitely the pandemic factor as well," he said.
December’s RIDE program netted a total of 266 reports in 2021 over 224 in the previous year. Police saw a marked increase in driving impairment by cannabis over alcohol offences as well.
“We are seeing a lot of cannabis use and driving – or even having cannabis readily available. When I first started in policing years ago, people would be having an alcoholic drink while driving – that’s been going on forever. But now we’re starting to see a lot more marijuana use while people are driving," he said.
One woman, in particular, drew the deputy chief’s attention when he joined the RIDE team in December.
“I was there the second time she was stopped. It was literally one week later, almost the same time, same location, same officer, same circumstances. Again, she was coming from work – same time every day – smoking marijuana on her drive home and running into the RIDE program at the same spot a week later. The first time it was a three-day license suspension, the second time it’s a seven-day license suspension,” he said.
The South Simcoe Police Service has applied for $300,000 from the province to help combat other offences, such as mental health COAST or Community Outreach and Support Team officers to assist with mental health calls, as well as funding from the provincial stream to fund a dedicated sexual violence and human trafficking investigator.
“It’s not just Innisfil, it’s Bradford and we are starting to see an increase in it (trafficking). We’re starting to see come additional activities in our communities, especially along the highway. In any jurisdiction when you have that type of stuff going on – it’s transient along the highways,” said Dyke.
At the police services board meeting, chairperson Chris Gariepy was reinstated for a second term as chair, however, former vice-chairperson Douglas Bernardi stepped down from the role in December and the province will find another replacement for that seat moving forward.
Van Dyke was pleased to note although both north and south police stations had been closed to the public due to the contagious Omicron variant strain of COVID, the south division opened on Jan. 31 and the north division was expected to open one week later on Feb. 7.