Changes in cellblock rules means drunks roaming streets

Some Ottawa cops say they’re letting drunks roam the streets because stricter measures in the central cellblock intended to protect intoxicated people are actually making things worse.

“Why bother? You’re going to be stuck with them,” one officer who didn’t want to be named told the Sun.

“Just don’t pick them up in the first place. Just keep driving.”

Arresting officers must explain in writing why the person in custody is a danger, and sergeants have to approve it.

But cops say sergeants are refusing their arrests and they’re spending hours trying to find someone to hand the prisoner off to.

“It’s an issue, sure, if it takes four hours,” said acting superintendent of patrol services Joan McKenna.

But management told the Sun officers have always been encouraged to use the drunk tank as a last resort.

“Granted, there are some that belong, absolutely, belong to be temporarily detained because of their aggressive behaviour because they pose a risk to themselves and others,” said Supt. Mike Flanagan.

“There are different levels of the intoxicated spectrum and the needs range from either medical, to extreme intoxication, to sleeping it off.”

Flanagan said success is judged on whether or not individuals are appropriately dealt with — whether it’s by locking them up or taking them to the proper agency or social service provider.

From January to June 2011, 223 people have been arrested in the central district for being drunk — down 76 per cent compared to last year when it ranged between 800 and 900, Flanagan said.

The explanation for that is simple, said cops, who say it’s not worth it to haul drunks in anymore.

“We go everywhere to find them a place: ex-spouses, parents. They say, ‘I don’t want him when he’s drunk — he’s violent.”

If they do find an alternative, cops say often times they’ll end up returning to re-arrest the intoxicated person, usually at shelters.

“They go violent, they assault, they cause mischief.”

That’s not the case at the Ottawa Mission, said executive director Diane Morrison.

“Very seldom do we have to call police back when they’ve dropped off somebody that’s quite intoxicated,” she said.

Cops maintain only after re-arresting someone, will they be allowed to put a drunk in the cellblock.

“Hopefully, he’ll make it across the Queensway. Hopefully he’ll make it home,” said one officer.

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