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VPD patrolling Downtown Eastside admit worries about possible COVID-19 exposure

Last Updated Mar 23, 2020 at 6:42 pm PDT

FILE (Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

Tensions are high about how quickly the COVID-19 virus COULD spread in the Downtown Eastside

Some police officers who have to patrol the Downtown Eastside admit they're worried about getting exposed to COVID-19

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says protecting people in the Downtown Eastside is a priority

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Some officers dedicated to policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say they’re anxious about possibly being exposed to COVID-19 and bringing the virus home to their loved ones.

Vancouver Police Union President Ralph Kaisers admits some members are no longer getting out of their cars unless they have to.

“We are still going to be responding to any priority call that we have to attend to, but they’re obviously would be some concern or maybe a concern for getting out and dealing with a call potentially that doesn’t necessarily need face to face contact.”

Kaisers adds he knows that signing up to a police officer means there is some risk involved, but as COVID-19 spreads concern over the virus is mounting.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety around COVID-19, what impacts it’s going to have on them as far as their health, and as well potentially the effects of what happens to their families when they end up going home every day after a shift.”

As for ticketing, Kaisers says it would be tricky since there has been criticism in the past of police over-policing the neighbourhood and targeting marginalized people.

“The reality is, what effect would a ticket have anyways?” He asks as people who live in the impoverished area likely can’t afford to pay fines.

“I drove through the Downtown Eastside myself this weekend a couple times, and I was quite surprised. There’s been a lot of media attention around social distancing, personal space. The city has enacted a number of rules for most of the rest of the city, and it just seems like obviously there’s a complete disregard for those rules by the residents of the Downtown Eastside.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says keeping everyone safe in that neighbourhood depends on frontline emergency workers remaining compassionate.

“The entire Downtown Eastside is of concern to us whether you’re in Oppenheimer Park or whether you’re in an SRO because they are, outside of the elderly, one of the most vulnerable populations we have in the entire country.”

Even though police now have the power to ticket people who don’t follow new public safety rules, Kaisers and Stewart agree that’s not likely to happen.

Stewart says special measures will be put in place to protect support workers on Wednesday when cheques are issued by the Ministry of Social Development.

“We’re taking precautions on cheque day to make sure we have people as spaced out as possible,” he says. “The biggest concern is that a lot of people in the Downtown Eastside can not self-isolate.”

Over the weekend, Stewart sent an urgent call for more federal and provincial government help with protecting people in the Downtown Eastside from COVID-19.

“We need to be aggressive in how we address this. We need shelter, we need food, and we need safe supplies so people can self isolate,” Stewart says.

He’s identified eight key areas that need to be bolstered to help the community, including facilitating the delivery of prescriptions and creating new guidelines to enable social distancing at overdose prevention sites.