December 3rd, 2020

LPS chief makes pitch for programs


By Jensen, Randy on October 20, 2020.

Members of the Watch program walk through Galt Gardens. Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh was before council Monday looking for continuing support for the Watch, Community Peace Officers and Police And Crisis Team programs. Herald file photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge Police Service presented its quarterly report to city council on Monday, but also took the opportunity to get in an extra pitch to retain three programs brought in over the past few years for trial runs: The Watch program; the Community Peace Officer program; and the PACT (Police and Crisis Team).

City council will be reopening its four-year budget two years early in November to try to account for provincial funding cuts, added budget pressures due to COVID-19, and to take stock of any potential savings found due to the most ambitious operational review undertaken in the City’s recent history.

The LPS is also subject to an operational review and faces similar cuts to other City-funded departments of between five to 10 per cent.

Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh faced questions from councillors on the costs of each of the three programs despite trying valiantly to have councillors focus on the results. The Watch program has an annual budget of around $600,000, the CPO program is slated to cost about $1.4 million in 2020, and the PACT program costs about $124,000 annually.

Councillors’ focus seemed to be fixated particularly on The Watch program.

Coun. Joe Mauro asked Mehdizadeh and Police Commission deputy chair Robert van Spronsen point blank if The Watch has such fantastic results as they are saying, why not absorb it into the Lethbridge Police Service budget instead of having city council fund it as an extra program?

Van Spronsen reminded councillors The Watch was brought in as an extra community safety initiative after city council demanded more budget creativity from the police service on how to help address concerns about the public’s perception of safety downtown without having to hire more sworn officers at a much higher cost.

Mehdizadeh said it was the same thought behind the Community Peace Officers, and both had achieved what the police service had asked them to do.

He pointed out The Watch volunteers have helped out with everything from basic wellness checks on individuals, to needle collection, to safe walks, and have helped with 27 overdose incidents in 2020 by administering Naloxone.

The Community Peace Officers have responded to 4,411 total occurrences in 2020, Mehdizadeh went on to explain, and have been dispatched to 3,610 calls. The program is also $420,000 under budget for 2020 so far, and returned $473,000 to City taxpayers last year after only filling nine of the 15 budgeted positions.

Mehdizadeh also strongly advocated for the PACT program, which costs only $124,000 for one officer’s salary per year at present. The officer works closely with an Alberta Health Services councillor as a team to address those in the community who regularly interact with police, and need frequent mental health interventions.

PACT has a caseload of 204 clients in Lethbridge, and Mehdizadeh encouraged council to consider potentially adding one to three more PACT teams to cover the city 24 hours per day – one more permanent officer and, he suggested, during the summer months the service’s dedicated school program officers could also be reassigned to the teams. However, he acknowledged, Alberta Health Services would also have to be on board, and he was still in discussions with local AHS representatives on that point.

After his presentation, Mehdizadeh reiterated to reporters what he said to councillors: in his estimation, the three programs had all proven their worth.

“All these programs provide a level of service the community otherwise would not otherwise get,” he said. “We have limited resources from a sworn officer perspective. They are tied up, and we just want to focus their energy and efforts on doing core policing duties. These programs are taking on a function that can easily be done by someone who is not a sworn police officer, and are allowing the police officers to be doing the work they should be doing to keep this community safe.”

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ewingbt

We gave them the money they wanted and the programs and in the last few months we are back to long waits for police responses and low numbers on patrol!
It is very bad when in the summer, on a long weekend, saturday afternoon, with all the issues we have in this city, there are only 10 police officers patrolling the whole city of Lethbridge and one CPO. That is for the whole city of over 100,000.
They can’t even shut down an illegal drug tent the Alberta Government states ” . . .“This illegal site contravenes the Criminal Code of Canada and we expect the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Police Service to enforce the law.” . . . “
But of course, nothing gets done, even when complaints called in that the Illegal tent is allowing users to illegally do drugs onsite, they are too busy to come, because they are dealing with more life threatening issues.
I think we need to see some results to our concerns before we blow more taxpayer money.
Why is it that after all the extra money we threw at the LPS, we suddenly in the last few months have seen a reduction is services, especially when calling police for help! Why are we back to long wait times?
We need to see police act and prove themselves! Many of the boots on the ground are tired of the gong-show on our streets and are eager to clean it up, but the leadership drags it feet . . . we need a shake-up in leadership in LPS and Council!
Why did the citizens of the Lethbridge have to band together and protest and get the Alberta government involved to shut down the ‘party palace’ of a SCS that has cost the taxpayer $25-30 million, while being condemned by the Mayor and Council and being told leave it to the ‘professionals’. We were even flalsely accused of planting needles! The citizens of this city had to rise up for the change . . . that is what our Council is supposed to do, but they didn’t!
We have been raped and pillaged for over 3 years and we have had enough!
Prove to us that you are able to do the job . . . we want results! Shut down the illegal tent like Health Canada and the Alberta government says you need to do!!

buckwheat

The new Chief having come from the RCMP, where for decades they and he have always done more with less, has discovered a funding Nirvana.



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