January 22nd, 2021

Petition makes call to defund city’s Watch program

By Lethbridge Herald on June 9, 2020.

Herald photo by Greg Bobinec - Watch manager Jeff Cove speaks to reporters about an online petiton calling for the defunding of the program. @GBobinecHerald

Greg Bobinec
Lethbridge Herald
A petition created over the weekend is calling on Lethbridge to defund the city’s Watch program and have the funding directed towards other social programs.
The petition has already gained over 2,500 signatures from  the community. The Watch program was created in May 2019 to help increase the safety of downtown and is mostly made up of volunteers. Jeff Cove, manager of The Watch, says he wasn’t impressed with the allegations from the petition circulating including what the funding was being used for.
“It’s disappointing because there’s not a lot, I’ve looked at what’s posted and there’s not a lot of attention that’s been paid to what the facts are,” says Cove. “The Watch is staffed primarily by volunteers ranging in age from mid-20s to early 60s, from all walks of life and various ethnicities. The team leads are not getting paid an awful lot of money. My salary is in there, too, but I’m not here for the money.”
The petition says the program has not been actually helping the homeless population, many of which are minorities, and otherwise makes them feel unsafe and threatened.
The petition states “The Watch was introduced to comfort white people at the cost of ignoring our unhoused population and increasing the harassment that they face daily.”
In a statement, the Lethbridge Police Service, says The Watch has had a successful run since its launch last year, and that the members of The Watch are out there for both the general public, as well as the homeless population.
“Wellness checks account for 22 per cent of the public service calls. Any time a Watch member encounters someone who is unresponsive or in medical distress, the welfare of the person is checked and medical services, not police, are contacted,” states LPS. “The Watch has recorded a total of 2,325 events — 70 per cent of which are public service calls which include wellness check, assisting with found property and motor vehicles, assisting businesses, contacting social services providers and de-escalating situations.”
In response to the allegations of racism within The Watch, Cove says the team receives training on cultural awareness, homelessness, addiction, CPR and First Aid, street awareness and safety, overdose recognition, de-escalation techniques, mental health and other training.
With some public outrage behind the online conspiracy of The Watch program, police say a recent survey by the Citizen’s Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College is set to be released later this month will show 88 per cent of respondents support The Watch program, although it is unclear how representative the survey is of people who are part of the vulnerable population or are minorities.
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I wonder who the people are that put forth this petition? I have a few ideas!

This would be devasting for the downtown and other areas the Watch program covers. I live, work, walk and shop downtown and in the last 5 years downtown turned into ‘THE HOOD’!

Open drug use including injectiing, open drinking, sexual acts openly, urinating/defecating around businesses and alleys downtown and stairwells, street prostitutes openly selling their bodies and open drug dealing is the norm downtown. Shoplifting, break and enters, car burgularies, thefts and other crimes increased downtown and throughout the city.

This all came from the rise in the drug crisis, the lack of effective treatment programs, the ineffective safe consumption site that generates addicts and slowly kills them, as they emaciate and get addiction/homeless related diseases that kill them if the drugs don’t. The SCS perpetuates the problem!

The Watch has dramatically impacted the issues downtown in my area, reducing all the issues stated above at least by 60%. They prevented many issues that would have required police to respond, taking them away from duties that focuses on criminal acts and It would be foolish to take away a program that has made downtown safer and other areas of the city that it has expanded to. Both the Watch and the CPO programs are needed and both work very hard and are making a difference.

The benefits from the Watch carry on for years, since many of these young men and women are seeking careers in law enforcement and could very well become members of the LPS. If they become members, they already know what is happening on our streets and they know all the players. As volunteers, this is cost effective, because if they join LPS, that knowledge goes a long way during their training process.
The cost of sending LPS members to the calls the Watch respond to would more than triple! The volunteers on the streets can’t be matched and in just one year they have made a difference downtown!

If you want to talk defunding, defund the SCS (safe consumption site) which sucks over $7 million of taxpayers money annually, generates more addicts, and the programs that have been put into play to support all the other need costs tens of millions each year. Shut it down and put the money into effective treatment programs and mental health treatment programs.
The LPS stated in a report to Council over a year ago that crime increased almost 6,000% near the site after it opened.
Fatal overdoses increased after it opened, the number of addicts increased after it opened, crime increased after it opened and the cost continues to increase.

Donations that normally went to the Cancer Society, Diabetes Society, local charities, etc, are now funnelled into food banks, supports such as Streets Alive, who feeds and clothes the addicts because all their money goes for drugs and alcohol! The rippling effects go throught the community and the costs will only continue to increase.

Defunding the Watch would increase costs dramatically at a time when cutbacks are coming in budgets throughout all levels of government.

People are angry and tired of crime increases, their businesses lost or barely surviving because of the SCS. If you shut down the Watch and cutback policing, crime will increase, and people will do as they have done in such cases throughout history and take the law into their own hands . . . there will be a rise in vigilantes and hate groups.

I for one would rather have the Watch on our streets than some guerillas with bats!

The Watch is working and it is cost effective. I question those who think otherwise . . .what are their real motives and reasons?

To all the Watch members, thank you! Keep up the great work you do, you are making a difference!