By Lethbridge Herald on December 15, 2020.
They’ll be tightening their belts a bit, but the Lethbridge Police Service will still provide the community with the policing it deserves.
On Monday, Lethbridge City Council voted to accept the recommendation of the Finance Committee to cut $1 million in funding from the LPS in 2021 and 2022 during its final budget deliberations.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning at LPS headquarters, Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh said the LPS will have to do some to-be-determined trimming in certain departments, but would not be cutting the quality of police service to Lethbridge residents.
“When I gave my presentation to council I wasn’t asking for more,” he said. “We can certainly manage what we do with 172 police officers, but now that number has basically been reduced to 165 based on the million-dollar budget cut.
“Now we have to look at what we can do to realize those reductions of service and personnel, which means a reduction in service and what we can do for the community. But we will not sacrifice our core policing function. The community is going to get the police service they deserve from the core policing. But other programs are subject to review and to see where we can make those cuts and come up with the million-dollar savings we have to come up with.”
However, $2.3 million in funding per year was given to the LPS for The Watch, Community Peace Officers and PACT program to assist the LPS in their frontline work in the community.
“The Watch and CPO were actually additions to our budget. Those programs are going to stay because we need them because they are the medium we need so we don’t put more pressure on our police officers,” said Mehdizadeh. “When you cut a million dollars it translates into about seven police officers that we are looking at and it’s about looking at where we can run those vacancies and still provide the service we need to for the community. But I’m not prepared to have our officers do more with less.
“The budget cut will translate into doing less and what less translates into, I don’t know. We’re having discussions on that and hopefully once we make those decisions and have the commission’s support on that we can communicate that in the near future.”
Mehdizadeh didn’t want to re-allocate funds given to The Watch, Community Peace Officers and PACT programs.
“This was the funding given to us based on good faith because we need those programs as well,” he said. “But if we have to run vacancies there might be an opportunity to run some vacancies in all the areas. But certainly, those are not the programs I’m planning on stealing from to make this meet what we need to do. What we need to realize is those programs are taking calls to our frontline officers. They’re very important programs. They’re community-based and we just want to make sure we show respect for them. But by taking them off and removing them will just add more stress on our frontline police officers.”
Mehdizadeh stressed those programs came about when the police force asked for more police officers and it was council’s direction for the police force to come up with different programs at lower cost to provide the service and give the community what they deserve.
“By removing those programs, the only way to manage that is to hire more police officers at much higher cost. Those programs are providing a service to the community at lower cost, but it doesn’t mean we are able to lose the 172 police officers.
“Certainly, all the programs besides the patrol teams and investigative teams are on the table for discussion. At this point we haven’t made a final decision. But certainly, some of the programs, we will look at those and see where we can risk the programs.”
Mehdizadeh emphasized every position in the LPS is an important one.
“People are fully tasked and from a policing perspective we are stretched to the max even with 172 police officers. They have given this information to council and when you look at the standard for other police departments of similar size of cities, we are actually short police officers and civilian staff.”
Despite the reductions he’s facing, Mehdizadeh said he respects council’s decisions to save money.
“This is not something new to Lethbridge,” he said. “Every municipality out there is looking at similar options. However, when you look at the economic downturns, that translates to an increase in crime and the last place you would want to cut the budget is public safety and policing. That’s the way I look at it, but I respect the decision and we’ll do our best to serve the community to the best of our ability with what we’re given.”
With the LPS slated to provide a submission to council on how they’re going to manage the budget cut in February, decisions will be made quickly, said Mehdizadeh.
“Also, we’re looking at potential hirings in January, so we also have to revisit some of those decisions. We’re still going to go with our hiring because we can’t just not hire. That’s the biggest mistake we can make because that will certainly put a lot of pressure on this organization if the more-than-expected people leave. We’re already in a vacancy situation. So, we’re going to be hiring some people, but those numbers may change based on the decision made.”
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