October 29th, 2020

City council tables request to defund The Watch program


By Shurtz, Delon on July 16, 2020.

Members of the Watch patrol through Galt Gardens downtown last year shortly after the program's launch. Herald file photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Delon Shurtz

Lethbridge Herald

dshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

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Hodes, associate professor of women and gender studies at the U of L, which states “a group like The Watch follows an outdated and inappropriate crime control model that has no place in Lethbridge.”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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Lethrez

But isn’t The Watch to serve all residents of Lethbridge, not just the vulnerable ones? My understanding was The Watch is on hand and available to assist and accompany everyone who needed to feel safer walking from point A to point B, and to be a visible support of city residents who need them.

RacoonWounds

…no. I mean, yes this super-helpful program was made to assist little old ladies walking down the street and I hear they also save kittens from trees!
This is a million-dollar program with UNPAID volunteers…clearly the money is going into the pockets of people and funding the police. This is just like the shelter corruption but at least that was a useful idea that was helping hundreds of people.
Why do we have The Watch?
So a bunch of conservative white kids can patrol the street and pretend they are helping their community with some sort of twisted Game of Thrones Lethbridge-Edition fantasy-club where we need to keep some of the public safe from all the people on the street that we don’t want to help in any impactful way.
Im sure all that walking exercise is good for the community, and they even have walkie-talkies so they are practically trained soldiers capable of anything.