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88% of COVID-19 complaints to police have gone unpunished in Port Moody

In the last three months, an overwhelming percentage of complaints to police were determined to be unfounded, required no more than a warning or resulted in police arriving after the alleged rule-flouters had left
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Port Moody police has investigated 49 alleged breaches of public health orders — only a handful of those were enforced.

Port Moody police officers have investigated 49 alleged violations of public health orders in the past three months — of those, nearly 88% went unpunished. 

In total, 19 calls were unfounded, five were unable to be located, nine resulted in warnings, one case required no action and another nine of the alleged rule-flouters were gone by the time police officers had arrived, according to PMPD spokesperson Sgt. Ian Morrison.

On two occasions, the cases were submitted to WorkSafeBC and in one instance the complaint was related to a Mental Health Act case.

The data covers a period from Nov. 1 to Feb. 4.

As the COVID-19 public health crisis drags on, Sgt. Morrison said the department will continue to respond to every report of a violation with an "education first" approach. But the latest statistics paint a picture of residents still unsure what counts as a violation of public health orders. 

In one case confirmed by the Tri-City News, a Port Moody resident called police reporting what appeared to be congregants gathering at a local church. Sgt. Morrison said police responded to the tip, but when they arrived, they found those gathered were taking part in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. 

As a recognized rehabilitation program, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous groups are exempt from public health orders restricting gatherings. 

Unfounded complaints make up a large percentage of alleged public health order violations. But police have also followed up on a handful of legitimate violations.

In September, Port Moody police slapped nearly $700 in fines on three drunk men at a Port Moody eatery after their “erratic and belligerent” behaviour was found to be in violation of COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. 

“The deplorable behaviour of the patrons included: refusing to abide to COVID restrictions by refusing to sit down, yelling at staff, playing with a pocket knife, entering the restricted staff-only area, vomiting on their table, and even spitting on the table when asked to leave the establishment,” wrote a spokesperson for the Port Moody Police Department in a press release at the time.

Fast-forward five months and Sgt. Morrison said there are two cases still being monitored by PMPD officers. 

In the one ongoing investigation into a breach of public health orders, a local business is under scrutiny after staff allegedly refused to don masks while interacting with the public. 

The case came up after an anonymous tipster said members of the public had repeatedly tried to educate workers at the business and after reports to the city are said to have failed to correct the alleged behaviour.

“So many people are scared to say anything,” wrote the tipster. “They could be positive with no symptoms and spreading it to each person that walks into that store every day. It makes me sad for all who do not know the seriousness of COVID.” 

But in response to questions over whether one of the workers at the business has a pre-existing condition, which would exempt them from wearing a mask, Sgt. Morrison neither confirmed nor denied the circumstances surrounding the case, writing in an email, “We won’t comment on specific cases as medical conditions are private matters.”

According to Sgt. Morrison, the 49 cases PMPD has responded to in the last three months likely represent a fraction of the total in Port Moody as most complaints appear to be reported to city hall's bylaw officers.

"We would not have a record of it,” he said.

— With files from Diane Strandberg