Q+A: Woodstock police chief on policing and crime during the pandemic

In the midst of the country’s biggest public health threat in decades, the Sentinel-Review will be speaking to people in the community how COVID-19 has affected their workplace and the possible challenges moving forward. We hear how the pandemic has changed policing and how the force has evolved their services.

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In the midst of the country’s biggest public health threat in decades, the Sentinel-Review will be speaking to people in the community about how COVID-19 has affected their workplace and the possible challenges ahead.

The Woodstock Police Service announced March 16 it would process some calls online and via the  telephone as part of community safety measures while officers would be wearing gloves and masks. On March 19 ,the department closed its station doors to the public, a step Chief Daryl Longworth called a “difficult decision.”

With many businesses closed, police also increased their patrols. Longworth said some administrative and non-essential services have been modified, but front-line policing remains unaffected.

He said the well-being of his officers, civilian employees and the community will always be the top priority.

Q: A large aspect of policing is working in the community with consistent face-to-face interaction? How has that changed and how have the police adapted?

A: There’s so much value with a face-to-face interaction. There’s many interactions we have in the community that are positive, such as fundraisers, food collection, and those are chances we can use to give positive impressions of police and those positive ideas of working with the community to solve problems. We’ve been cut off from interacting that way, outside of the phone or virtually, and I don’t think that’s as effective as those face-to-face interactions. We still respond to calls for service. We have handled some calls over the phone to protect our officers. … We’re still responding, but our response might look a little differently than in the past. We still encourage people to call us if they need us.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge for police in the coming months, especially with so much unknown and so many changes?

A: We have to be able to adapt. Emergency services are generally very good at adapting because we’re used to seeing change. We can plan as much as possible, but we have things that are unexpected thrown at us all the time. Our people and organization are very good at adapting, but we have to look at what is the new norm and how do we continue to adapt.

Q: What are some possible aspects of the job that may change?

A: Our court and justice may change significantly. Where we used to pick up prisoners from jail and bring them to the courts, we’ve had to adapt by doing virtual court appearance. That may be the future, and we have to look at how we’ll respond with the staff we have to facilitate it. There’s also the question of how will we interact with the public and what else is coming in the future. Whether there’s an economic downturn, an increase in mental-health calls, how demographics of the calls we receive change. It’s uncertain and we have to look at all possibilities and how we’ll respond.

Q: The Woodstock police had three new officers set to graduate from the Ontario Police College in Aylmer in April and another three who would’ve started in the spring. With the police college closed, will that impact the police service?

A: I’m confident something will happen to continue at the college. It may start up in mid to late June, but there’s been adapting. Some of it may rely more on virtual training, but much of the training requires face to face such as shooting, use of force, driving. We’re waiting for direction from the health sector for safe guidelines to put in place. Three officers for us is significant, given the size of our organization, but there are some services who need 50 or 60 officers and they need to them tomorrow. We can’t let this class go by without doing something.

Q: Organizations have been working much closer together during the pandemic than they may have in the past. Have you found this is true for policing and how do you think that will benefit the police in the coming months?

A: I can’t think of a time in my career where police leaders have been working more together and in unison to share ideas and to maintain consistency across jurisdictions. We all had pandemic plans, but they can be generic umbrella plans to be applied in different circumstances. There’s been great networking where we’ve had conference calls with all the chiefs in the province and senior government leaders to talk about what was going on, staffing models and ideas were being shared across the province.

Q: There’s many directives coming from Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General and front-line officers have to worry about being in contact with someone who may have COVID-19. How is the morale of the staff and officers?

A: The morale’s very good. Our people are very resilient. They’re used to having curveballs regularly thrown at them. They are wives, husbands, they have children, they have grandparents, so there are those concerns and anxieties. We had to develop quickly to a huge volume of information that was coming at us very quickly. There was a lot of change such as wearing PPE. It was difficult, but they adapt. They recognize when they put the uniform on they’re putting their life at risk. This is a unique twist because they’re putting their health at risk. … When there’s a bit of fear and anxiety I think having police officers on patrol and showing up at calls adds a level of security to the public to alleviate some of that anxiety. I think there’s a sense of pride and I’m very proud of how the members have responded.


Here’s a rundown of our daily coverage on the Woodstock-area fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic from March, April and May.

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