By Lethbridge Herald on October 12, 2021.
“The police service budget is $40 million dollars. However, more than 84 per cent is comprised of wages and benefits the chief has no control over. This leaves $6.7 million and the city removed actually 15 per cent of the chief’s budget. The Fire Department/EMS also lost funding at a time when public safety is in crisis. I will work with Council to ensure another proposed $1 million is NOT removed from the police and a corresponding amount from Fire/EMS. I am all for accountability in action and budgeting, but removing funds is not the right course of action.”
“This was a serious error and should be a higher priority than many of the other unproductive and largely symbolic expenditures the City wastes money on every year. If fortunate be elected to serve on council, I would approve not only a restoration to previous levels but an increase of $2 million over the next four years.”
“I believe Council dropped the ball when they cut the police budget by a million dollars. When Lethbridge was named one of the most crime ridden municipalities in the country I don’t understand how or why you would cut their budget. Totally counter-productive! In fact, I am on record advocating that the funding should be reinstated by the new council immediately. To me policing is a ‘need’, not a ‘want’ and therefore I would also support additional funds be allocated over the next four years.”
“Shameful, those are my thoughts. When our city has topped the Crime Severity Index twice in as many years, to reduce the budget by $1 million/year for two years is inexcusable.
The LPS budget is largely attributed to its payroll. This reduction would directly affect staffing levels if left unchecked. In 2021 the budget shortfall meant taking monies from other pre-approved program budgets and a “rainy day” budget. This kept service levels static, but also inherently put the overall discussion off on to the new council to deal with. I’ve heard discussion expressing concern about the LPS quality of service and concern about conduct affecting public confidence. However, between LPS leadership, the Police Commission and Alberta Justice, these concerns seem to have been addressed.
I would engage with the rest of Council to hopefully restore the Police Budget as soon as possible, also looking into the feasibility of collaboration with the city’s social services agencies to address broader community concerns.”
“City council made several very difficult decisions when revisiting the budget. Reducing the police budget was one of them. As the police chief has said, he was disappointed with the decision but has assured the city that the service to the community has not diminished. It was important to me when making the decision that three innovative programs were maintained: the Watch, CPOs and The PACT team.”
“This was a reallocation, not a reduction, as the police had over $2 million in reserves. There was no reduction in police services. Public oversight of the police is essential. It builds public confidence in, and support for, the police. It ensures the public’s needs are met by their local police. It protects the regular police officers as they know their leadership is held accountable. Oversight is done in a variety of ways. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Minister requested an action plan from the Lethbridge Police Commission (LPC) and Lethbridge Police Service (LPS). Oversight needed to be tightened up. Though mandated under the Police Act, the LPC has not brought an annual plan forward to City Council in years. As well, the development of the next LPS Strategic Plan needs to be developed by the LPC, in conversation with the community and LPS. The Strategic Plan needs to reflect the concerns and priorities of the public and public needs must come first. I am impressed with the work being done by the current Commission and am certain they will complete the work they are doing to create and present Annual Plans to City Council and to develop a strong Strategic Plan. When this work is done, the LPC and LPS will have made a strong case for future funding requirements and will have rebuilt some of the public confidence that is so greatly needed.”
“Although I’m a strong proponent of wise spending and fiscal responsibility, I question a reduction in vital services such as the local police. I don’t profess to be well versed in our police budget, but given the increase in crime it seems like an unwise decision at this particular time.”
“The LPS budget makes up a significant portion of the City’s annual operating budget. I think the City is overdue to critically assess if these funds are being spent to the best benefit of the City. In conversations with Chief Mehdizadeh I have learned that LPS services may be over-used, or improperly used by Lethbridge citizens. An example the Chief cited was that people will call the police to report a loud neighbour instead of just asking the neighbour to respect residential noise bylaws. This is an improper use of our police services and drives up the budget as police are stretched too thin responding to calls that may not have been necessary, rather than responding to actual crimes in a timely way. This has the double negative effect of being expensive, and the Police Service seems unreliable if called and can’t respond in a timely way. So let’s fix that. We know that many of our crime problems in Lethbridge have to do specifically with crimes of opportunity/property crimes. These are intrinsically linked with poverty in the community and a lack of resources for people experiencing mental health and addictions issues. I believe that we can stop more crime before it even happens by investing in supportive infrastructure and social programs for our unhoused populations. By breaking the cycle of poverty and substance abuse in our city, we can reduce pressure on our police services and make the lives of our service members much easier.”
“City policing has been repeatedly scandalized with various events including misconduct and other events, occurrences that leave LPS in disrepute. Public confidence in policing is the lowest it has ever been historically. This results from a lack of accountability between city police and residents. Much of the petty crimes and other contributors to our unusually high crime ratings is a result of poor execution by police. When priority calls to 911 take upwards of 10-30 minutes to have police attendance this is a failure toward our community. Our integrated fire and EMS have a target response time of 10 minutes or less. I would expect that response times for public safety emergencies by police would be even less. Like employee wages, budget allocations ought to reflect the performance of the departments to whom they are allocated. If performance is poor then funding should be reduced. By requiring police to meet targeted response times and performance objectives that forms a basis for the level of funding received we encourage police to improve upon their performance. Right now we are spending millions on policing that’s delivering poor results for the investment. When a bad investment performs poorly we reduce what is spent on that investment. I believe that poor job performance and low public confidence reflects that this decision was a wise one. That $1 million is better allocated to more useful services in our city.”
“The police budget, which is primarily tax supported, represents one of the largest expenditures for every dollar collected. Presently, it stands at about 15 cents for each dollar collected. In my view, there is no doubt that the police budget should be the last budgetary item to face cutbacks as it is Council’s responsibility to be good stewards of our citizens safety and that duty is abrogated when police budgets are reduced to the point where that safety is compromised. I understand that the police budget appears as an easy target to ‘cut’ because of its size but I think common sense would suggest that the effect of budgetary cuts can, and does, have a significant impact in terms of crime rates. We have all seen the news reports that indicate there has been a very marked increase in property crime rates in Lethbridge such that, per capita, we have one of the highest rates in Canada. That is alarming and I believe is, in no small measure, contributed to by an inadequately funded police services. A Councillor has only one vote so any attempt to increase the budget would require an additional four votes to implement such a measure but I am confident that that is achievable. I caution, however, that tied into any effort to increase the police budget, should also involve a review of budgetary items that could more properly be seen as a ‘want’ as opposed to a ‘need’ which then could allow any budgetary increase to not result in a tax increase.”
“I thought the $1 million reduction in the police budget was extremely ill advised. We were going through a period with rising crime and topped the Stats Can list for most crime. People were worried and looking for leadership and the leadership disregarded their fears. It may also have impacted the city’s attractiveness as a potential site of business, indicating that Lethbridge is not interested in dealing with any perceived crime problem. If I were elected, I would push to revisit the cut, with the goal of reinstating the $1 million dollars to the budget.”
“The citizens of Lethbridge expect efficient and well funded emergency services. Cutting services in the midst of increasing social disorder in pockets of the city, and already lengthy response times is unacceptable. Talking with residents experiencing the highest crime rate in the city, more houses then not had door cameras, surveillance cameras around the property, motion activated lights, padded locks inside and out of gates, and many other security features. All at the homeowner’s expense! Many residents did this in response to the increase in crime and foot traffic when the SCS opened their doors. So if homeowners, with dollars already tight for some, spent money to protect themselves in an increasing crime wave, what sense does it make for City Hall to go the other direction? Responsible governance does not sacrifice safety. Peoples lives are at stake. The Lethbridge residents have identified crime and safety as at the forefront of social issues requiring action. A priority issue when the new Council reconvenes, is to review the budget cut, have the police chief list the services cut to the city, and detail how restored funding to previous levels will be spent. Money spent of taxpayer dollars still requires scrutiny, oversight and accountability.”
“I feel that there is a great need to continue our quest to address the issues of crime and opioid abuse within the city of Lethbridge. When we are being rated as the worst city for crime by various agencies, it’s time to realize that we have major issues in regard to the need for proper policing within our community. I totally feel that the police budget needs to be reviewed, but to reduce its funding to lower expenses is of grave concern. I hope to be able to address the issue to see if the reduction is warranted once I am hopefully on city council.”
“Twenty cents of every tax dollar (20 per cent) goes toward the Lethbridge Police Service (LPS). The budget for LPS is part of the overall operating budget for the City, drafted for the period of 2019 to December 31, 2022. The $1 million cut narrowly passed City Council by a vote 5 to 4. When the cut was announced, the LPS had a near $300,000 budget surplus. In reality the cut resulted in approximately $725,000. The reduction, 2.5 per cent of the LPS tax supported funding. From a ‘numbers side’ this does not seem too extravagant, however in reality, ‘boots on the ground’ so to speak, it is a huge blow to an already stressed department. On Council, I would support corrective action on this funding matter. Council has to definitely and quickly review the cut in funding to the LPS. LPS is understaffed, as Lethbridge has 15 per cent fewer police officers than the national average. It was well publicised that the City recently ranked number one on the National Crime Index. How is our City to envision a safe community for business and residents when (the) very core, policing, is not appropriately funded? Short staff and reduced budget increase stress on the members who are now essentially having to do more with less. This is not sustainable, since our City is growing in logistical size and population. My career background (Customs Border Services Agency) in enforcement and crime deterrence at the border is definitely an asset in understanding policing issues.”
“I appreciate that council has to make tough decisions as there is not enough money to make everyone completely happy all of the time. Given the constant concerns I hear concerning crime and safety, I think reducing the police budget was the wrong move. I fear it sent a discouraging signal to the officers working on the street. I have been told by officers that morale within the ranks is the lowest in 21 years! This is not acceptable. I have met with the chief of police and representatives from the union. It is not just about restoring the $1 million….though that is likely necessary. It is about reconfirming and reasserting our confidence and support for law enforcement. These professionals are tasked with an incredibly difficult job and they do a great job. I will work to make sure they feel supported with the resources they need to help provide us with the safe city we deserve.”
“Lethbridge City Council does not manage the Lethbridge Police Service. That’s the role of the Police Commission. The Police Commission requests a budget amount from City Council, and the Commission allocates those dollars as they see appropriate. I support the Police Commission in its responsibility to ensure the safety of our community, and its role in exploring and implementing effective, efficient policing (more at jennschmidtrempel.ca). I support providing the Commission and police services with the resources necessary to deliver the services we are asking them to provide. I am committed to holding the Police Commission accountable for their oversight of Lethbridge Police Service and its budget. Additionally, I will hold the Police Commission accountable to both fulfill and report back on the Action Plan submitted to the provincial government. We need to look at community safety holistically and recognize that some calls for service are responses to social, not criminal, matters. I will support the Commission in exploring alternatives to those social calls for service and allow them to allocate police resources to true policing matters. I would also encourage residents and businesses to speak with Lethbridge Police Services regarding Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). There is currently a grant available for downtown businesses who wish to implement CPTED projects.”
“Our City was not immune to the financial impacts of the prolonged Covid pandemic. As the Covid pandemic stretched on, Council realized that City revenues would be down, and also that many residents and businesses in our community would need whatever support and relief we could provide. In order to lessen the impacts, Council asked all city funded departments to come forward with solutions to decrease our expenses by between 5-10 per cent. LPS came forward with around $4 million in possible reductions, of which Council decided to implement $1 million in reductions. We have been assured by the LPS and the Police Commission that these cuts can be covered through their reserves and will not impact frontline services to our community. These reductions were always seen as necessary, short term responses to our current fiscal situation, and I know that LPS will be first in line when Council begins building the next budget a year from now. It’s important to note that Council also increased ongoing funding to the police budget by an amount of approximately $4.6 million in 2021/22 for the LPS initiatives of Community Police Officers, The Watch, and The Police and Crisis Team.”
Shelby J. MacLeod
“City Department funding can get complicated, especially when people measure their tax-paid value for the money being spent. Every taxpayer has a point of view that need to be respected. Council tried to establish a balance reflecting the KPMG report and what they were hearing from the people of Lethbridge. I believe our new Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh is working hard with his team to the evaluate costs, demands and enhancing community needs. The entire Police Department seem to be working together to stem crime in our city. Lethbridge is growing and does require an efficient police organization, that is able to deal with the complex crime issues along with day to day issues that people ask of the Lethbridge Police department. As a member of Council, I would listen and respect the financial request of all departments. Safety and people services are always paramount, especially when services are needed in a hurry. As for restoring the funding, I would want the assurance of the police chief and the Finance Committee as to how much is restored or enhanced. Collaborative dialogue is key for all City Council decisions, especially as the police support the safety for citizens of Lethbridge.”
“Firstly, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the Lethbridge Police Service! The $1 million reduction and council directed zero per cent tax increase, created real pressure on the budget. However, the shortfall was covered by police budget surpluses ($1.7 million) and operational/maintenance adjustments. In 2023, the police budget will take on extra pressure due to three programs (Special Constables/CPOs, The Watch and the Police and Crisis Team), which were previously funded from the City’s operating budget. This ongoing and additional pressure will have to be addressed in future budgets. The Police Commission is responsible for ensuring a sufficient level of personnel and balancing the budget with the delivery of adequate and effective policing services. Increasing budgets do not necessarily achieve better outcomes. There must be more than just increases in funding.
Community safety is a top priority for me. Even though crime dropped by 10 per cent over the last year, I am hearing citizens don’t feel safer. As Mayor, I would request the Commission present Council a strategic plan before the end of 2021, and an annual plan and report that shows a financial review, and an evaluation of the outcomes of existing programs to ensure efficient and effective policing. Since it has been three years, I would request a presentation to Council on the outcomes of the new initiatives (the Special Constables/CPOs, The Watch and the Police and Crisis Team) to ensure we are responding to civilian concerns and expectations, taking necessary steps to build a safer community for everyone and showing transparency in operations.”
“As a current member of Lethbridge City Council I voted strongly against the $1 million reduction to the Lethbridge Police Service during the latest budget review. I believe that we need to invest in the safety of our community. Working together with law enforcement can support the vision that we all have for a safe and vibrant community. Additionally, we need to work together with other support services such as the Watch Program, D.O.T (Diversion Outreach Team) and other social services to ensure that the police are able to continuously provide effective services to the community. Safety and security is my number one priority. I also believe it’s of highest importance to the citizens of Lethbridge.”
“Many of us have been on the receiving end of crime over the past few years. We’ve had our bikes stolen, our cars broken into, and our property vandalized. This is the exact reason why we need a strong police force in our community. They are the ones who are tasked with keeping our community protected and preventing these kinds of crimes. The $1 million budget cut to Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) is not the answer. While LPS has had some notable (and very public) shortcomings over the past couple years, the solution is not to remove their funds while asking more of them. We all understand that there are some issues police cannot, and should not, solve and that there is a need for having diverse social services available to us in our city. However, defunding the police is a horrible way to achieve that. The budget needs to be used properly to help train, equip, and support the officers to become a beacon of community success and pride. This can be achieved by city council working closely with the police commission and the chief of police to ensure proper budget allocation and use. Our city needs to be a safe place for our seniors, our students, our families, and most importantly, our children. If elected, it is a top priority for me to get our great city back to that point. Therefore, I am completely in favour of restoring the police budget back to the previous 2019 levels.”
“As many of you know, I was against reducing the Lethbridge Police Service budget during last year’s Budget deliberations. I believe the reduction of $1 million to the Lethbridge Police Service budget has negatively impacted our community. I have heard numerous concerns and stood helplessly with our neighbourhoods and businesses most impacted by crime and illegal drug related activity. From my time knocking on doors during this campaign, I’ve heard firsthand from people all over the city who have experienced break ins, thefts of their children’s bicycles and tools, and even a harrowing experience of a senior who was threatened with violence in Galt Gardens in broad daylight; just to name a few. Therefore, I will commit to advocating for the full restoration of this funding. Our frontline sworn police officers and the civilian members working within the Lethbridge Police Service deserve to be supported with adequate funding for personal protective safety equipment, resources and training programs to deal with the vast array of issues they face on a daily basis.”
“Policing is a difficult role, and those who serve are – overwhelmingly – dedicated, honourable and brave people who deserve our gratitude. As a supporter of community policing, my commitment as Mayor is to continuously review the LPS budget within the wider context of responsible fiscal management, and to work to ensure LPS funding allows for effective policing, while realizing savings where possible. This isn’t a ‘defund the police’ question, even though some may view it that way. This is a revenue/expenditure question, in the extraordinary context of a global pandemic wreaking havoc on budgets everywhere, including Lethbridge’s. If you cannot raise taxes or find other funds in order to meet expenses, how do you maintain fiscal responsibility? This budget cut gets tied by some to a belief that crime in Lethbridge is out of control. Whether that’s true is subjective – some believe it to be true, some don’t. But we also need to ask: what role does policing play in crime reduction? The answer is ‘some.’ Effective crime reduction will involve policing, but also must seek to address the root causes of crime: poverty, inequality, trauma and addiction, homelessness, desperation. Policing handles symptoms of those problems, but it’s unrealistic to expect it to solve them. Deciding on the right level of police funding is not a political question, it’s the result of a balanced, evidence-based approach to community services. That approach is what I bring to the table in leading council forward.”
“I take the crime rate in our community and safety of our citizens very seriously. Given the recent exchanges between the Alberta Justice Minister and our local chief of police regarding the serious allegations of corruption and the resubmitted improvement plan, I believe that our City Council would do well to exercise some patience before making any significant changes to the current police budget. Once we’ve seen that the issues raised by the Justice Minister have been adequately addressed and we can be assured that the alleged cultural and procedural issues within our police service are no longer a concern, then the budget and service level should be reviewed to see if a budget increase is justified. It may be that some issues traditionally handled solely by the police service might better serve our citizens to involve social and/or mental health services. It would be good to review best practices in other communities before proceeding one way or another.”
“Policing is an important service for our community, to enforce the law and promote community safety and security by helping to protect citizens and their property, manage traffic safety, prevent and detect crime, and maintain public peace. It has been highlighted by some that Lethbridge has the highest Crime Severity Index (SCI) in Canada for 2019 and 2020. This is startling, it is also misleading, as it only considers census metropolitan areas (CMA) and does not consider municipalities that are policed by the RCMP (Red Deer at 165.6 and Grand Prairie at 164.9). Fortunately, Lethbridge has seen a downward trend in its CSI, dropping from 142.8 in 2019 to 138.7 in 2020, and the overall crime rate dropping by 10 per cent. This said, Lethbridge’s SCI remains very high and is something that we must address. Noteworthy, the Lethbridge Police often deal with chronic offenders who have mental health concerns, addictions, or both. Many police services have publicly announced that these issues are not something ‘we can arrest ourselves out of’ and that more mental health supports are required. Following other police services, Lethbridge should be looking to implement a mental health and addictions strategy, including the addition of members that specialize in these areas, to connect people to treatment and supports. I think that an increase in the police budget should be looked at, with priorities focusing on policing crime hot spots in the city, including more community patrols in these areas, and funding toward mental health and addiction supports.”
“My knee jerk reaction to this: ‘What? Defund the police? I don’t want Lethbridge ending to be like some anarchist autonomous zone with vigilantes lead by criminals!’ How can I answer this question unless I have been given the same opportunity to review the information, have the discussions, consider the submissions, hear the objections, and realize the possible outcomes from the perspective of our police service personnel and the citizens who are paying for benefits of this service? I do not like that Lethbridge is ranked in the highest position for crime rate in 2020 and the 2021 Crime Rate is ranked at an unimpressive ‘2’ position for cities in Canada. I don’t like when I walk the street, the back lane or by the garbage bins and find needles, accessories, or home-made fashion weapons. Does lowering the police budget decrease the crime rate? Possibly – maybe not probable. The real question is ‘why was the budget reduced? What was the aim of this aggressive resolution?’ Public safety is of primary importance and has to be a priority that is adequately resourced, without question. Legitimate economy invariably suffers with high crime rate. I need the discussion, the debate, the awareness of prevailing perceptions from a policing perspective and a citizen perspective. Responding yes or no to this question would not be responsible. I can tell you, ‘Some things are needed. Some things are useful. Things that are needed are useful. Things that are useful are not necessarily needed.’ Knowing the difference is wise.”