By Tim Kalinowski on December 12, 2020.
The Lethbridge Police Service welcomed five new Community Peace Officers into its ranks with a special graduation ceremony on Friday.
The five new CPOs fill out the service’s full complement of 15 funded by city council in 2018.
Lethbridge Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh said he looked forward to seeing the graduates fulfil a vital role in the community.
“I am really proud and happy for these young individuals who have actually taken the oath and are going to be serving this community,” he said. “I just signed off their certificates; so they will be starting immediately. We are very happy for them to join our (LPS) family.”
The new officers will now enter their street training phase with veterans from the LPS. Mehdizadeh emphasized the value the CPOs and the Watch program bring to the community.
“These programs are actually working very well,” he stated. “In fact between these two programs they have been dealing with over 8,000 calls-for-service or stopping them from coming to our office, which helps our frontline officers in their jobs.”
One of the reasons why The Watch and the CPO programs were also established was to act as a sort of feeder league for the police service. Former Chief of Police Rob Davis likened the two programs to junior hockey affiliates where he envisioned someone could start out on The Watch and then move into the CPOs, and then on eventually to becoming a gun-carrying officer with the LPS.
Newly sworn officer Tyson Verhelst has certainly followed the playbook thus far. Prior to becoming a CPO he started out as a Watch volunteer. He hopes to become a full-time member of the LPS officer ranks in a few years time.
“My end goal is I do want to be a full police service officer, and with the Lethbridge Police Service would be a great place to start,” he confirmed. “I think this will give me a really good foundation.”
Verhelst said he and his fellow graduates looked forward to serving the community.
“It has been a really long, hard eight to 10 weeks here with all my fellow classmates,” he told the media. “We have all worked really hard. So to have the final graduation ceremony of everything we have accomplished feels really good.
“We know we are now ready to go out and help serve our community, and help make our community a better place.”
Alongside Lethbridge’s five new CPOs, the Siksika First Nation also welcomed three new CPOs of its own on Friday. The three have been training with the Lethbridge Police Service for the past two months.
“It’s a huge step,” said Siksika First Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot. “It is one of the building blocks we need to get our security and policing back in Siksika First Nation. If you don’t have a safe and secure environment, you are not going to have a healthy environment. We are the second-largest First Nation in all of Canada from a land perspective, and to this day we do not have proper policing, proper security, on our borders.”
Crowfoot said having the officers on duty in Siksika comes at an important moment, giving them the ability to enforce new provincial public health orders to combat COVID-19 if needed.
“We cannot enforce a lot of these restrictions that are being placed because of the pandemic,” he explained. “But this pandemic is not the beginning of this crisis — we have not had proper policing at Siksika for a long time. The pandemic has just amplified the crisis.”
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