By Jensen, Randy on June 10, 2020.
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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