By Tim Kalinowski on December 2, 2020.
Lethbridge Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh said it will be challenging to absorb a proposed $1-million cut to the Lethbridge Police Service budget.
“That’s not something that is decided as of yet, and obviously there is going to be more discussion in a couple of weeks (at city council),” he said to reporters prior to the Lethbridge Police Commission meeting on Tuesday evening. “As I have mentioned before, any cut to the police budget may mean some reduction in service. But we just have to first of all see what those cuts are, and from there formulate a plan to still provide great service to the community staying within that budget limit.”
Mehdizadeh said a $1-million cut would represent about 2.5 per cent of the total police budget for the City of Lethbridge.
“When you look at a police force of our size it is significant,” he stated. “And when you look at all of policing most of our budget is in salaries; so that might mean we have to find ways to save money in different ways. There are some internal processes we can obviously look at, but regardless of how you cut it, there may still be some reduction in the level of service we provide.”
Mehdizadeh emphasized he did value The Watch, the CPOs and the PACT, and appreciated that they had been fully funded by council.
“Those three programs are really productive for this community,” Mehdizadeh explained, “and they are doing great service. These are the programs that do cost money, but if you had police officers providing that same service it is going to cost a lot more.”
However, Mehdizadeh later told commissioners he could possibly find ways to absorb a $1-million cut for 2021, but said an ongoing cut beyond 2021 would have a detrimental effect on the police service, which would be “in a world of hurt.” In response to commissioners’ questions about potential cuts to the Watch, CPOs and PACT programs, he acknowledged the value of the programs to the community, but suggested they had never been intended to take the place of the service’s current sworn police officers when originally proposed.
“We certainly don’t want to short-change the community on those programs,” he stated; “however if we now have to fund $1 million, which means I have to take police officers off the line. Now you are actually reducing the (existing) police officers which those programs were helping to support.”
Commissioners also asked Mayor Chris Spearman and Commissioner Blaine Hyggen if they could predict which way city council might be leaning on finalizing its cut to the police budget at the Dec. 14 council meeting.
“I can’t predict whether or not this might go forward,” Spearman confirmed. But he also reminded his fellow commissioners, and he was echoed by Hyggen on this point, to not fund The Watch, PACT or CPOs with the money council has designated for that purpose would have an impact on the credibility of future requests from the police service to council.
“There were separate presentations to council on the programs (from the LPS), and a passionate plea to council these programs were justified,” said Spearman. “So on that basis, council in their budget discussions has funded them. If a subsequent decision was made to defund those programs after funding was applied, it would only affect the credibility of future requests.”
Commission chair Simon Griffiths then suggested the commission make an inquiry of city council as to whether or not the budget cut, if passed on Dec. 14, would just be for one year or ongoing thereafter. He then proposed a motion for Mehdizadeh to enter into a budget process, alongside the commission’s finance committee, to come up with options on how the service might absorb the potential 2.5-per-cent cut in 2021.
This motion was adopted unanimously by the members of the Lethbridge Police Commission.
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