Hundreds of recruits from across Ontario will arrive in Aylmer next week for training at the Ontario Police College despite surging COVID-19 caseloads locally and a provincewide lockdown.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed some 438 recruits from police detachments throughout Ontario are set to descend on Aylmer Tuesday, with classes for the basic constable training program beginning one day later.
A spokesperson for the ministry said restrictions on in-class teaching for post-secondary education under the current Ontario lockdown do not apply to the college.
“The health of our staff and recruits is the top priority, and we continue to work with local public health to protect their safety,” Brent Ross said.
He said the Ontario Police College is following the health unit's risk mitigation strategy and implementing safety measures that include mandatory screening, isolation as appropriate, on-site COVID-19 testing and providing personal protective equipment.
All the recruits are housed on-site during training.
There was an outbreak of COVID-19 during a training session at the college last summer. At least five recruits tested positive and dozens of other students and instructors were forced to isolate.
Requests for an interview with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones were denied, with a spokesperson saying she was unavailable.
“Basic constable training is an essential training program to ensure that police services in Ontario continue to have the staffing resources necessary to keep our communities safe,” Stephen Warner, Jones’ press secretary and spokesperson, wrote in an email.
“Training cannot be delayed as police officers are frontline essential workers.”
Warner said the ministry consulted with the office of the chief medical officer of health; the labour ministry; and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities in developing a plan to continue to run the police college.
Jeff Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, whose riding is home to the police college, declined to comment, deferring to Jones.
Established in 1962 at Aylmer’s former air force station, basic training at the Ontario Police College runs three times a year. The previous class at the college concluded on Dec. 18.
As of Tuesday, there are 402 active cases of the novel coronavirus in the Southwestern Public Health’s region, which includes Oxford and Elgin counties.
Aylmer has recorded more cases than any other municipality in the area, with 276. It gives the small town a case rate of 3,683.9 per 100,000.
There are 48 active cases in the town of about 7,500.
Under the 28-day provincewide lockdown, in effect until Jan. 23 in southern Ontario, colleges and universities are only open for virtual instruction.
Some “limited exceptions” are provided for clinical training and trades, subject to physical distancing, according to the province’s lockdown guidelines.
Not delaying basic training is necessary to ensure adequate staffing at police detachments, a spokesperson for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said.
“To recruit and train a new police officer is a very long process,” Joe Couto said. “Any delay in that process really endangers not only the business continuity of a police organization, but also puts a strain on public safety.”
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Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press