By Lethbridge Herald on February 3, 2020.
A suite of new policing programs brought in during the last year seem to be doing the job Lethbridge citizens want of them, says Lethbridge Police Service Chief of Police Scott Woods.
Woods had praise for The Watch, the Community Peace Officers and the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) during the LPS’s quarterly report to council during Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting.
The LPS revealed within CIC that in 2019 The Watch volunteers had put in 3,600 hours of community service, helping with everything from Safe Walks, to parking-meter help, to assisting police with on-the-ground interventions by helping to report crime in the downtown.
Woods said the major issue The Watch was facing was a shortage of volunteers and paid Team Leads to work as many hours as some in Lethbridge would like. But for the time they are out on the street, between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., team members have established a positive rapport with citizens and businesses in the downtown core, he said.
The Community Peace Officers have a similar problem, explained Woods, with only nine of the 15 funded positions filled in Lethbridge. However, four more should be out on the streets relatively soon, he said, bringing the number of officers to 13.
“We want to get it up to our full complement of 15, but we fell a little short on that,” Woods admitted, referring to the recent intake interviews. “So we should get closer to our numbers than we have ever been. I think, early on, we’re seeing some success with that in the community. I think it is a good program, but part of the problem, to be frank, is when you have funding that is not fully secure. It does make it challenging to bring people in because they are not sure if they are going to have a job or not by the end of November this year.”
Woods praised the nine officers who have already been out on the beat since last November.
“I was out walking the beat with them awhile back, and they are dealing with some of the things we want them to do,” he said. “We’re having lots of good feedback, from what we’re hearing in the community, with what they are doing as well.”
Woods told reporters prior to the CIC meeting, and council later agreed in session, the work of Police and Crisis Team has been one of the biggest revelations of the past year. PACT consists of one specialized officer who has been trained in mental-health issues and one Alberta Health Services mental-health professional. The two work together to help set up mental-health diversion initiatives to take that strain off of street-level officers. They have, so far, interceded with and are monitoring 171 individuals in the community with mental-health issues among Lethbridge’s most vulnerable population.
Woods commended the work of PACT, The Watch and the CPOs, but said he wished council would consider bringing in stable, long-term funding to support the programs beyond November of this year when the two-year funding commitment made by city council ends.
“That’s our thought going forward when we come back in the fall of this year (for budget),” said Woods. “We’re going to be asking that these (programs) become permanent fundings within the police service — permanent programs we can move forward as part of our annual operating budget without the caveat funding that is specific for only a certain time frame. We believe that is beneficial to the community. The city is growing, and we are always looking at new and innovative ways of trying to deal with some of the problems we’re having within the community with crime, people not feeling safe downtown and higher visibility; those types of things. So we’re, for sure, going to be pushing for wanting to see these programs move forward.”
Woods was also pleased with how the new Crime Suppression Team was functioning thus far and stated he would have a public briefing on those stats soon. He was also curious how the $50 million recently announced by the province to ALERT would play out in Lethbridge.
“We’re expecting some additions (of funded officers) with that,” he said. “How that ($50 million) shakes out for our region? I’m not certain of the numbers for that at this point.”
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