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Pot legalization, fentanyl are hot topics at Belleville police session

Chief Ron Gignac (centre), Deputy Chief Mike Callaghan (left) and other members of the Belleville Police Service field questions from the Thurlow community. Photo by Evan McClelland, QNet News

By Evan McClelland [1]

CORBYVILLE – Belleville police hosted a “Talk with the Chiefs” event for Thurlow ward residents Tuesday night.

The event at the Gerry Masterson Centre [2] in Thurlow was intended to get feedback from the public to make the community safer. Eighteen members of the public attended, but instead of feedback they had questions for Chief Ron Gignac, Deputy Chief Mike Callaghan and five other officers.

In particular they wanted to know what the police are doing to prepare for the upcoming legalization of marijuana and to deal with the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

“We’re seeing fentanyl in our community now,” Gignac said.

To be prepared, the police are going to outfit their officers with naloxone [3] kits that the provincial government has made available [4] to police and fire services, Gignac said. Naloxone is a drug that helps temporarily counteract the effects of an opioid overdose.

People can also buy naloxone from local drugstores, he said.

As for marijuana, the police are mandated by the province to prepare for legalization, Gignac said. This preparation includes training.

“They’re not going to be able to train all the officers in the province even in the first two years. It’s going to take years of training officers. When we send our officers away, that means we have to backfill with overtime.”

But, he said, “we’re going to meet it and we’re going to do our best. But there are going to be some growing pains.”

Among other things, these growing pains include cost, he said.

“Right now we’re finding the money within our current budget numbers, and we hope that’s going to suffice. When the legalization happens … eventually we’ll be purchasing instruments (to determine whether drivers are high). Those purchases are borne by the police service, which in turn is a cost to the taxpayers.”

The issue of people driving under the influence of marijuana was one of the main topics of discussion at the session.

“Are we prepared for it? You bet we are. Is everybody trained for it right now? No,” Gignac said. “(As) an officer with experience, I know when somebody is driving impaired. It’s easy for us, and it’s easy for you as well as citizens. There are certain signs and symptoms.”

Nonetheless, officers must be trained to deal with the situation, he said.

“As police officers we have to be able to testify to that and give evidence for that in court, and that is part of the training as well.”

The police representatives will hold a second public meeting, for Belleville residents, Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Parkdale Community Centre, 119 Birch St.