“You don’t realise how much that contact with the community defined the job you did until it’s not there anymore”

WRPS’s Kelly Gibson misses the community interaction that’s integral to her role as Sergeant of the Rural Division of Neighbourhood Policing in Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot. “My role feels very isolated right now,” she said.

Kelly Gibson misses the personal contact that used to be an integral part of her job as WRPS Sergeant of the Rural Division of Neighbourhood Policing. That connection has disappeared because of physical distancing.

“The face-to-face community interaction is gone, and my role feels very isolated right now,” she said.

Gibson is originally from Otterville, Oxford County and joined the force in 1992. Stationed in Elmira, she covers Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot.

“A typical day would be meeting with a member of one of the municipalities to address crime or abnormal behaviour in our parks, or addressing citizens’ complaints about speed in their community.”

She regularly connects with agencies that provide support and referrals for the townships, including Community Care Concepts and Wilmot Family Resource Centre.

“Our building is not open to the public because of COVID-19. Meetings are either via Zoom, Skype or telephone calls.”

“You don’t realise how much that contact with the community defined the job you did until it’s not there anymore, and then you have concerns. You see the increase in domestic violence calls.”

In the week commencing April 19, 2020, WRPS received 132 citizen-generated domestic dispute calls across the region, compared to 100 calls in the same period last year. 

“Over the past several months, we’ve seen an increase in domestic dispute citizen-generated calls,” confirmed Public Information Officer, Constable Ashley Dietrich. “However, the number of criminal charges laid as a result of domestic disputes have remained consistent to those in 2019.”

“We encourage anyone who may see something, hear something, or suspect something is happening to call 911 immediately.”

Gibson said she’s worried about the availability of community resources.

“Certain community members are isolated in rural communities, so it’s concerning. Our libraries can help them with access to the internet, but if they don’t have access, how are they getting that message?”

Region of Waterloo libraries closed March 15 to curb the coronavirus spread.

Despite following the recommended precautions, Gibson worries about her own health.

“I’m pretty much office bound at the moment, but because officers are coming and going from the division, having contact with potential cases of COVID-19 is concerning. You have fears of catching it and bringing it home to your family. It’s always in the back of your mind.”

“I had a cough, and I was terrified it was COVID-19 and getting co-workers sick, so I worked from home for a few days. It’s great that I have that opportunity, but then there’s things that I miss out on at the office.”

“I have access to work from home, but at weekends I try not to access emails. I give myself the weekend to decompress. Monday to Friday it’s with me 24 hours a day.”

Gibson was part of the first responders’ parade past Nithview Community in New Hamburg on April 30. She was moved to see Wilmot residents lining the route with signs, and tweeted: “It was emotionally overwhelming turning onto Boullee and seeing the notes of support for Wilmot & frontline workers.”

Gibson thrives on human contact, both professionally and personally.

“It’s incredible how the isolation affects you. I’m making sure that I reach out to people I have working relationships with who I also consider friends, through work and community involvement, and send emails to say, ‘How’s everybody, staying healthy?’”

“I hope we can get back as a society to having those interactions. I have a vested interest in the people who live out in our townships that we serve. I have concerns for my family and myself, but I also have concerns for the community as a whole.”