By Tim Kalinowski on November 24, 2020.
The Lethbridge Police Service was under the budget microscope during Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. While council made no decisions during the meeting, (those decisions will likely come on Thursday or Friday), comments by councillors give some sense of their thoughts on how to generate budget savings at the police service.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen asked Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh if council voted to freeze the department’s budget for 2021 and 2022, could it absorb those types of costs, including anticipated wage increases for its existing staff under the department’s collective agreement?
Mehdizadeh said he was confident the department could likely do that, and he would also be willing to discuss with the Lethbridge Police Association potential compromises to prevent deeper cuts to the department.
Coun. Belinda Crowson and Mayor Chris Spearman felt simply continuing on with the status quo in terms of police budget, with no further cuts, might not be the best course for city council to support.
Crowson, in particular, inquired about the potential to consolidate certain departments within the police service, such Information Technology and Human Resources, with those of the City, and thus generate savings this way.
Mehdizadeh said he didn’t believe the City would have the capacity to make up the workload of losing those dedicated staff members within the police service, and would likely mean City staff would end up doing much more work with less resources at hand.
To which Crowson responded, “I come from the non-profit world, and we are used to doing more with less.”
Council also asked about the high cost of the school resource officer program, which costs about $915,000 per year for five officers and their resources, and whether or not it might be better to staff that program with Community Peace Officers instead.
Mehdizadeh explained the officers involved in school resource program were not only there to give high fives and deliver lectures, they also have to engage in active investigations when crimes are committed in local schools.
Coun. Jeffrey Carlson asked if there were any potential cost savings from cutting back on things like the replacement of police vehicles or other resources.
Mehdizadeh responded there were probably some short-term savings in that, but said in his previous experience as a regional commander of the RCMP they had tried such measures, and had ended up costing the force more over the medium term as repair costs added up and warranties expired.
“This would only save pennies when you are looking to save thousands,” he said.
City council did not ask any questions about potentially continuing or cutting The Watch program, but it is one of the potential reductions up for consideration later in the week.
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