By Shurtz, Delon on July 16, 2020.
City council has put off making a decision about whether to defund The Watch program until later in the year, opting to debate the issue when it begins deliberating the budget in November.
City residents Rebecca Runions and Jaisie Walker have already asked the Lethbridge Police Commission not to request money for the program, and last month told commission members they had received nearly 6,000 signatures on an online petition calling for the program to be defunded. They/them said the program is not working the way it was intended, and the money spent on the program should be used to bolster social and mental health supports for the city’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Runions sent a letter to city council outlining several concerns and hoping to make a presentation in front of councillors on Monday, but the letter was received only as a submission and Runions was not called on to make a presentation. Instead, council discussed the issue for only a few minutes and passed a motion to accept Runions’ submission as information only, and include it in budget discussions at the end of the year.
Runions points out The Watch’s budget of $1.2 million in the first two years of operation could house an average of 34 people a year, or provide three meals a day for every “unhoused” individual in Lethbridge for a year. The submission received by council also includes a quote by Caroline Hodes, associate professor of women and gender studies at the U of L, which states “a group like The Watch follows an outdated and inappropriate crime control model that has no place in Lethbridge.”
“We are deeply concerned about the efficacy of this program,” Runions states in the written submission to council. “Not only could the funds be more effective in other areas, such as housing, harm reduction strategies, and treatment, but it is evident that The Watch is a Band-Aid solution to a multi-faceted issue and it is disproportionally harming the most targeted populations in Lethbridge.”
Mayor Chris Spearman reminded council that The Watch’s funding expires at the end of December, and he and other councillors moved to postpone any debate on the issue until budget deliberations.
“We’ll have serious debate in the November budget,” agreed Coun. Belinda Crowson.
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