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Ottawa police to use special constables for traffic control, mental health calls

Ottawa police are looking to use special constables to cover traffic control duties normally performed by sworn officers, including traffic directions and road closures, and to assist with maintaining custody of detainees in hospital to free up resources for officers.

In a report for Monday’s Ottawa Police Services Board meeting, police are seeking approval for a special constable pilot project, which would employ four OPS special constables and four more serving as backfill, if required.

The special constables will have extended powers under two jurisdictions normally served only by sworn officers. This includes new powers granted under the Mental Health Act and the Highway Traffic Act to assist officers.

Police say the outsourcing of duties to special constables will allow emergency response officers to respond to other emergency calls.

The constables will be granted extended powers to assist sworn officers with traffic direction and road closures.

This will include closures at accident scenes, crime scenes, events, demonstrations and any other incident that may require traffic control. They will have the power to assist officers with the towing or removal of vehicles from roadways.

Police say the officers will receive the same training given to sworn officers on traffic direction.

The constables will also be given powers under the Mental Health Act to assist with maintaining the custody of persons at hospitals. Currently, two sworn officers are required to maintain custody of a detainee at hospital.

“This is an area that is causing a strain on frontline resources while officers maintain custody of detainees at hospitals,” the report said. “A special constable will relieve the secondary officer so they can return to patrol duties and respond to other emergencies.”

If approved, a special constable would be able to detain a person who is being violent, a threat to themselves or scaring others around them and is possibly suffering from a mental disorder. Police say all special constables will receive de-escalation training and annual use of force training.

The program will run for a period of six months and if successful, the force will ask the board for the powers to be granted to all uniformed special constables.

The plan for the project will appear before the Ottawa Police Services Board meeting for approval on Monday.

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