'We were challenged at the time': Windsor police leaders reflect on the Ambassador Bridge blockade, one year later
One year ago, local law enforcement were tasked with handling an unprecedented incident, the Ambassador Bridge blockade.
“If it would happen now, we would act more quickly. We were challenged at a time with resources and lack of legislation,” reflected Jason Crowley, Windsor police Deputy Chief.
On Feb. 7, 2022, a vehicle convoy along with protestors blocked access to the Ambassador Bridge, demanding an end to COVID-19 restrictions.
Windsor Police were aware a protest was planned for that day but could not confirm specific details of the plan.
“It was difficult to know what was coming. We didn't know how many, we didn't know how they would do it. So that was the challenge for us,” said Crowley.
Crowley says a lack of resources prevented law enforcement from stopping vehicles from entering the area to protest. He adds, the nature of Huron Church Road made it difficult to completely block off the area to potential protesters ahead of time.
“You have side streets all the way down. For us to block off every street from the 401 to the bridge would have been so resource intensive. We still had a city to police,” said Crowley.
He says their initial focus was to manage the protest until Windsor Police received additional back up from provincial, federal and nearby municipal police agencies.
On Feb. 9, the OPP took over as the lead agency responding to the blockade.
“When the OPP came in, we worked very well together, a very smooth transition. It was a success story,” said Crowley.
Police say it was difficult to reach an understanding with protesters given their unstructured leadership.
“There were number of segmented groups. They were making decisions jointly, other times independently, and sometimes making decisions that thwarted another,” said Karel Degraff, Windsor Police superintendent.
On Feb. 11, an injunction was issued by Superior Court but protesters refused to leave and police did not immediately move in.
“There were still children on site. We wanted to do everything to mitigate our response and make sure that our presence and level of force that was going to be used was the absolute minimum,” said Degraff.
Police waited until the morning of Feb 13 when large crowds had dispersed to dismantle the remaining protesters.
“It didn’t make sense for us to escalate the situation with a very large crowd. As the crowds diminished, that's how we executed the plan,” said Degraff.
Moving forward, local law enforcement leaders believe they have the proper experience and tactical plans to deal with future protests or similar incidents. Windsor Police is in the exploring the possibility of creating a public order unit.
“The big twelve police agencies in the province, most of them have public order units. We're modelling ourselves after the provincial model,” said Crowley.
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