By Kalinowski, Tim on October 31, 2019.
The Lethbridge Police Commission will let the Chief of Police deal with a motion from Lethbridge city council to consider potentially hiring eight new police officers.
Lethbridge Police Chief Scott Woods said he appreciated the latitude afforded him by the commissioners during Wednesday’s police commission meeting to look at all ends of the problem instead of being confined to one path.
“We always welcome resources, but I think we have to do our due diligence as a police service to look at what’s best for our deployment and what’s best for the community,” Woods said. “We will look at all angles of it instead of just putting eight frontline officers back on the street. I don’t want to go in with the blinders on and just have one approach. We need to look outside the box at a number of different ways we could potentially address some of the issues we’re having both in the community, but also with some of the strain our officers are feeling from having to deal with the number of issues they are facing on a daily basis within our community.”
Some commissioners voiced their concerns about reports of rank and file members of the police service turning to the community to reportedly show their frustrations about manpower strains instead of conveying through the police service itself up the chain of command through the chief of police to the police commission to voice those frustrations. Others asked Woods if the police service has adequate counselling resources. And if media reports about police burnout in Lethbridge were accurate, what he intended to do about it?
Woods admitted he was a bit blindsided by the motion brought forward by Coun. Blaine Hyggen at Monday’s council meeting.
“This is truly the first I have heard of it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that type of thing is happening. We prefer to have (our officers) approach us and speak to us first to try to address some of those issues, instead of airing our issues in the public. But, on the flip-side of that, I know some of our officers are frustrated and some of our resources have been strained over the last little while. I certainly understand some of our officers are frustrated and becoming a little fatigued, and as a result they are probably vocalizing some of their frustrations to people.”
Woods said the service and the City both provide good counselling programs and there were strong peer supports in place throughout the service itself, and he was aiming to improve on what the department already has in place. He acknowledged he had 14 officers off on either short-term or longer-term disability at the moment, a little less than 10 per cent of his officers, which is higher than he would like.
Some were off with physical injuries and some with mental injuries, he acknowledged.
“We are approaching 10 per cent of our staff being off which, to be frank, has cause some issues within the department,” Woods stated. “I think we will all admit we could do a lot with 14 police officers. The unfortunate reality in the world we live in is it is becoming the more the norm than the exception. I think we are going to continue to see our people off for an extended period of time. I hope the numbers are more manageable than they are currently right now.”
Woods also said dealing with the city’s current problems is a strain on all frontline responders in the community, including his officers.
“They can get run down,” he said. “They can get pretty tired. There can very easily become a sense of hopelessness, too, which will cause people to react or vocalize … Back in the day when I first started, it was ‘suck it up’ and keep your mouth shut about it. Now, we are conveying the idea we want people to talk about it; it’s no longer taboo to admit you are having issues and challenges.'”
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