ABBOTSFORD (NEWS 1130) – As B.C.’s public safety minister talks about increasing fines for those caught defying COVID-19 orders repeatedly, a local police chief says officers are just doing their jobs when they’re enforcing the rules.
Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr says no officer wants to come to your home or place of worship to break up a gathering.
“But at the end of the day, if it’s going to affect public safety — there’s large groups that are going to impact our community and the health and wellbeing of people — right now we are the organization, law enforcement, who has to enforce the public health orders,” he tells NEWS 1130, adding it’s a challenging thing for his officers to do.
“They live in this community. But, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the rules, you’re putting us in a very tough spot, and we’re really just wanting to work with everybody in our community to keep everyone safe,” Serr adds.
Public Health Orders have been put in place to keep our communities safe. I know we all want to be with family & friends but we need your support. The police are put in a difficult spot enforcing PHOs. Help us keep everyone safe. See full message below https://t.co/gCdg8OhxF5
— Mike Serr (@ChiefSerr) December 7, 2020
Serr penned an open letter on the Abbotsford Police Department website on Monday, pleading with everyone to follow public health orders put in place by the province.
He tells NEWS 1130 he’s well aware of the backlash from people who disagree with orders or who think the pandemic is a hoax. The chief says he’s learned he can’t change people’s minds, but is urging everyone to consider the safety of others, as well as the officers who are put in the position to enforce the rules.
“The science speaks for itself and despite what I say or what many other people say, unfortunately, we’re not changing those minds. But nonetheless, those people’s behaviour are going to directly impact other people’s health and safety who are doing everything right — that’s when we’re put in that position to enforce.”
While the department says it’s doing what it can to keep officers safe — whether that be through PPE or other measures — Serr says anytime his members are forced to attend a large gathering or deal with people who choose not to wear masks, they are potentially being exposed to COVID-19.
He stresses the police will always be there in the event of an emergency, however, he says the more situations can be addressed by phone, the better.
“I’m concerned, certainly as we see our numbers significantly increasing. We’re all doing our best to limit exposure,” Serr says.
Under current health orders, all events and social gatherings are not allowed. Religious in-person gatherings and worship services are also suspended for the time being.
However, some churches have been defying orders in recent weeks, holding service on Sundays despite being told not to.
Serr says it’s difficult for many of his officers who “are people of faith who want to be with their congregations.”
“We do not relish having to go to a church and, certainly, we don’t want to break up a sermon or anything like that,” he admits.
The APD has been trying to take an educational approach and Serr notes the majority of people have been supportive and helpful, adding “there’s only been a couple of times where we’ve really had to reach out and have those tough conversations.”
Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Tuesday harsher penalties could be coming for those caught violating public health orders multiple times.
“I can tell you that we are looking,” Farnworth said. “I’ve asked my ministry to look at how we may look at increasing fines for repeat offenders.”
Fines range for violating COVID-19 restrictions. For example, refusing to follow the mandatory mask rule in most indoor public spaces could end with a person paying $230. Organizing a party or an event in violation of health orders could lead to a $2,000 fine for the host.
-With files from Lasia Kretzel, Martin MacMahon, and Kathryn Tindale