By Yoos, Cam on April 29, 2019.
This week’s ‘Police Beat’ column by LPS Chief Rob Davis
The past week has been an exciting time for the City of Lethbridge and the 35 people that will make up The Watch. On Saturday, The Watch volunteers completed their training, received their uniforms and are now ready to hit the street.
The citizen and stakeholder surveys in 2017 and 2018 made it loud and clear that citizens in Lethbridge were open to new innovations to help address public safety. Respondents also made it very clear that they wanted more opportunities to engage with the police and be part of the solution. Thank you to all of the citizens who took the time to share your thoughts. You were the catalyst for change and something new. I have to admit when I saw the surveys I was optimistic but wondered how much interest and support we would really have, especially for volunteers. As I have come to learn, when citizens in Lethbridge mobilize and volunteer they do it in a big way.
The amount of interest was overwhelming and we far exceeded our expectations. The initial thought was it would take two years to grow the volunteer base for The Watch to 24 people. That was easily met in our initial advertisement. We also had incredible interest for the 10 positions that will be a guaranteed presence during the summer. We had great interest for the position of The Watch Manager and we are fortunate to have Jeff Hansen onboard leading the team. His experience over the past 20 years will serve the city well.
Last week the 35 people that will make up The Watch underwent their initial training. Every evening, and during the day this past Saturday, this diverse group of individuals with a wide breadth of experience met for their training. They were 35 strangers who did not really know each other and I could see from the body language there was some nervousness in the room. It was also very clear they were there to learn and grow into a team.
The training covered many areas to provide The Watch volunteers with skills to interact with citizens on the streets of Lethbridge. The topics included dealing with persons with mental-health challenges, Indigenous awareness, the resources available through the City of Lethbridge, suicide awareness and dealing with persons with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). A special thank you to Marco Ander, Shannon Hansen, John Thompson of the Lethbridge Family Services and Constables Tyler Boras, Les Vonkeman and Pete Wigand for sharing their expertise in these areas.
The Watch members also learned de-escalation techniques and verbal judo, critical incident stress management and patrol safety tactics. A big thanks to Jeff Hansen and Constables Tianna Harland, Leanne Christos, Paolo Magliocco, Brent Lorenz and Shane Kisinger for taking the time to contribute to the future success of these 35 individuals. Ted Stilson and Kristie Kruger of the BRZ and Chamber of Commerce also taught sessions for The Watch about the BRZ and The Chamber and how our collective efforts support a common goal of a safe and vibrant downtown and city. Thanks Ted and Kristie for your support of The Watch.
The training also focused on note-taking and report writing, radio usage and protocols, Naloxone delivery, CPR and First Aid and OH&S. This could not have happened without the help of Karen Van Seters of the Public Safety Communication Centre, ARCHES, Beverly Baczuk from Heart & Stroke and Lori Chaki-Farrington from the City of Lethbridge. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills with the team. Given the dynamics of the training I may have missed others but please know their contributions are equally as critical to the success of the program. On Saturday the training wrapped up and the members of The Watch received their uniforms. A giant thank you and congratulations to the members of The Watch!
I sat in on many of the sessions and can attest the training and the trainers were top shelf. I also need to extend a thank you to Sergeant Mike Williamson and Jeff Hansen for co-ordinating the training and taking care of all of the logistics. As times and circumstances change, training will evolve and I have complete faith in Mr. Hansen and Sergeant Williamson to watch for and implement future training opportunities.
A ‘shout out’ to the City Manager, Bram Strain, for dropping in and offering some words of encouragement on the first evening of training. As I have written before, The Watch in Lethbridge is based on other successful community patrol programs that have proven to be successful and make a difference in the cities of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Windsor. Bram shared his personal observations of The Watch in Winnipeg and his belief in The Watch YQL to be a success story for our city. Mayor Spearman and Council also deserve a salute for funding this initiative.
Mr. Hansen and Sergeant Williamson reported to me last week that they have the initial schedule drafted and just need to make some minor tweaks. This week will be exciting! Keep your eyes open for The Watch to be out and about on our streets. They’ll be recognizable by their red shirts/coats. Please take the time to say hello and encourage our team. They are new so there may be nervousness, but they are also enthusiastic and I am proud of of them for stepping up to help make Lethbridge a safer city.