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Ottawa police pilot project will see special constables take over some sworn officer duties


In a move to free up more police officers for frontline work, some special constables in Ottawa will be granted extended powers to take over things like directing traffic and staying with someone in hospital who was apprehended under the Mental Health Act.

It's part of a six-month pilot project, set to begin in the first quarter of this year.

"I've seen, in some cases, five to eight hours of people being stuck at the hospital," said Ottawa Police Association president Matthew Cox. "By allowing one of our members attend and having a special constable that's there ... it allows our frontline members to get back out to continue to respond to emergency calls."

Right now, officers are required by law to stay at the hospital with someone apprehended under the Mental Health Act until they're admitted.

"Having three or four or five sworn police officers at these hospitals for hours is not a good use of their time, or of taxpayer's money," said Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs.

The pilot project would also allow special constables to assist at road closures, hold crime scenes, and direct traffic.

Unlike police officers, who are trained at the Ontario Police College, special constables working with police are trained at the Ottawa Police Professional Development Centre.

"The way police services deliver public safety is more effective when they're using their special constables effectively," said Sarah Kennedy, the president of the Ontario Special Constable Association.

Kennedy said she applauds the program in general, but warns that under new regulations in the Community Safety and Policing Act, special constables will no longer have the authority to apprehend someone under the Mental Health Act

"The attempt to make law enforcement's approach and response to mental health more effective and appropriate and efficient is actually going to be undermined and ultimately leave persons in crisis in our community at risk," Kennedy said.

The Solicitor General's office said in a statement the pilot will not be impacted by the upcoming changes to the act.

"Special Constables will continue to be able to supervise persons detained under the Mental Health Act while in hospital. Special Constables will continue to be able to intervene to maintain public safety or prevent self-harm throughout Ontario." Top Stories

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