June 16th, 2024

Lethbridge police counter criticism on response times

By Tim Kalinowski on June 8, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge Police Service is responding to criticisms leveled at them during last week’s police commission meeting by a group of Westminster area residents for not responding fast enough when they call to report a problem in their local park.
Insp. Jason Dobirstein, of the LPS Field Operations, acknowledges that sometimes it takes longer to respond to these concerns depending on whether the call is high priority, as in an emergent call in progress, or of lower priority when there appears to be no immediate threat to members of the public.
However, states Dobirstein, the Public Safety Communications Centre has to make a determination how and when to task the limited available officers on shift based on a scale of priorities.
“Our officers are challenged with, oftentimes, they start their shift at, say, 7 p.m. at night, and it is very common that there are 15-25 calls officers need to respond to,” he explains. “We need to get to the most important ones quickest, and oftentimes that means others have to wait. And it’s a sad reality, but our officers are challenged with many calls-for-service to get to. And I can tell you the hard working men and women that are on the streets, and the supervisors that supervise those, are doing the very best they can to respond to the calls in the community.”
Dobirstein acknowledges, though they are trying their best to get to every call they can, there are going to be times when they just can’t get there fast enough due to the limited staffing resources available on any given shift.
“Our goal is to have an officer available to each beat at all times of the day to respond to emergent calls,” he says. “That is the ultimate goal of any police service- that you need to have cars available to respond. And frankly, we do not always have that.
“We have a limited number of police officers we try to deploy in all the specialized units and on the front lines as best we can, and try to predict the calls that come into the community. It’s a balance.
“Could we use more officers on the front lines? Absolutely. Is it always the answer to continue throwing more resources at it? Not necessarily. There are lots of different units and different strategies we need to consider. But we have what we have right now; that’s for sure, and we are doing the best we can.”
Dobirstein also addresses several public misconceptions about how beats work in the city.
“We do not tell officers they can’t leave their beat,” he says, responding to one criticism leveled at the police commission meeting. “What we do is say you have a responsibility to own your zone, and there is a lot of value in understanding the challenges in a particular area, and our officers are expected to respond to that.
“If there are emergent matters that require you to leave that zone, and people in our community need assistance, you bet we do. And dispatch will send a car. If you need to do investigative follow-up, and that takes you into another beat you can do that. We do have supervisors who can authorize you to leave your beat.
“But, ideally, (people) have to understand that while you may have challenges in your zone, and when you call the police you want the best response, at that very same moment there might be challenges on the southside, westside and downtown that are requiring police resources. So it would be a mistake for us just to deploy willy-nilly.”
One of the Westminster residents present at the meeting, Sarah Villebrun, says she has become so frustrated with police response times in her area that she has been taking it on herself to go out and patrol her local park every couple of hours since last November. And admits she has confronted individuals on several occasions she feels are behaving improperly in her neighbourhood before police even arrive on the scene.
“There is an insane response time from Lethbridge Police Service,” she states. “Sometimes they can come rather quickly, and on days they come quickly, I applaud them. Less than 15 minutes, I’m happy. But more often than not it is hours. And the response time is not officer in person– it’s a phone call, which is completely unacceptable.”
Again, Dobirstein, who has since followed up with Villebrun to address some of her concerns, reminds members of the public not to try to take the law into their own hands for their own safety. While calls are appreciated and encouraged when citizens have concerns about crime or other emergent issues in their neighbourhood, Dobirstein says to actually go out and confront individuals you feel are acting criminally could put you at risk of serious harm. It is definitely not encouraged, he says.
“There are times we appreciate citizens stepping up when they need to help protect someone, but we don’t want to encourage vigilantism,” he says. “We need you to call us, and we will come. We don’t want someone to get hurt out there doing that. That is not the right answer for us.”

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