Sarnia police adding four officers for prisoner monitoring

Man's hands behind bars in jail or prison. © Can Stock Photo Colecanstock.

Sarnia’s police chief says the addition of four special constables will help ensure sufficient prisoner monitoring at police headquarters.

The Sarnia Police Services Board approved the hires during its public meeting Thursday morning.

Chief Derek Davis said the current situation with prisoner monitoring is presenting a risk the service can’t delay on.

“The issue of the drug use in particular, we have to be able to make sure — and we do currently — make sure that we monitor prisoners as a top priority. So, anyone that’s in custody, we make sure that they are well during all of their time here,” said Davis. “What it means for us in a practical sense at the moment is when we don’t have people that are assigned that as their core business, we pull from other areas.”

Davis said with the rates of fentanyl highly prevalent in the Sarnia community, the number of prisoners entering the cellblock having consumed intoxicating substances is dramatically higher than in the past. He said drugs like fentanyl can cause life threatening issues, almost without warning.

“So what we do in response to that — because that’s certainly a risk to us, it’s a risk to the people that are in our custody — we want to make sure that we provide the best care we can while someone’s here, and these special constable positions will enable us to find an economical, cost-effective way to ensure that we are monitoring people as efficiently as possible.”

Currently, the on-duty front desk constable monitors the prisoners by watching the cameras via a monitor installed at the front desk. The cellblock includes four adult male cells, two adult female cells, a large cell used for multiple intoxicated persons and a few other rooms.

Davis said remote monitoring and hourly checks are insufficient in today’s operating environment and increased physical checks of prisoners is a requirement.

“So, right now we would have to pull officers in from the road to monitor high-risk prisoners, which we do and we make sure that adequate monitoring is in place. What we are looking for is a sustainable solution moving forward given some of the changes with some of the substances that we’re dealing with within the community.”

Davis likened the addition of the officers to buying an insurance policy.

“Anytime there’s a death in custody, there’s an automatic inquest that would have to occur. Those inquests come at great costs and they’re necessary and important functions of oversight. But if we can certainly avoid the loss of life in our custody, that’s our number one priority.”

Davis said utilizing four full-time special constables for these duties, compared to regular constables, saves the service over $124,000 per year.