June 22nd, 2024

Police budget passes Economic SPC targeting staff increases


By Lethbridge Herald on November 17, 2022.

City council acting as Economic Standing Policy Committee unanimously endorsed the Lethbridge Police Commission’s budget request for 2023-26, advancing it for further discussion. Herald file photo

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

City council acting as Economic Standing Policy Committee unanimously endorsed the Lethbridge Police Commission’s budget request for 2023-26, advancing it for further discussion.

Council voted 9-0 after hearing answers to questions from Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, deputy police Chief Gerald Grobmeier and commission member Dawna Coslovi.

The SPC heard of the need for more officers on the street and civilian staff so the force could do its job. Grobmeier told the SPC that the LPS overtime budget is 90 per cent higher than in last year and that officers are being called in every shift to help with the staffing shortage.

“Members are tired,” said Grobmeier of officers.

Coslovi said the LPS needs more staff to maintain the level of service the force provides to the community.

Lethbridge has one of the lowest “cop to pop” ratios in the province and nationally, the SPC was told, and that factor should be considered, Grobmeier stated.

LPS hasn’t added members since 2014 and in the last budget cycle was given a $1 million annual cut. The budget request will restore that lost funding and allow the force to hire new officers as well as needed civilian staff.

The budget request, if approved in the final budget, would add 22 officers as well as civilian staff to handle duties such as records management, information technology, Human Resources and FOIP.

For 2023, the plan is to add 15.5 full-time civilian staff, two police officers and seven officers for youth engagement.

In 2024, the LPS wants to add seven officers with an an additional six in 2025.

No sworn officers have been hired since 2014 except for community police officers in 2019. No civilian staff have been added since 2012.

During a break in the meeting, Grobmeier said “we’re certainly very pleased. It’s been a long process. LPS working with the commission has been working on this budget for probably a year now so a lot of effort (has) been put into it.

“We’re obviously happy with the support that we’ve received from council. We think it’s a very balanced approach,” said Grobmeier saying the force is trying to be realistic and reasonable.

“We need the increase for certain,” he said, adding the LPS knows there will be an impact on taxes. He said the force is being realistic about how many staff it will be able to recruit and hire in the next four years.

“Our overtime is up 90 per cent this year so that’s a significant impact on every police officer that we have. Our police officers are tired, they’re burned out. If you look at the stats in Canada, police officers have a 49 per cent likelihood of mental health issues. In comparison, the general public is less than 10 per cent. Four per cent even think about suicide” which means in a force the size of LPS, that would be about eight officers which is “a scary, scary thought,” the deputy chief said.

“We need to help them, we need to support them.”

During discussions, Grobmeier and Mehdizadeh both spoke about the important role civilian staff play.

Mehdizadeh used an analogy, saying civilians are the foundation of the building and without them the building will crumble. He talked about crime reduction methodology of policing which works on three facets including managing prolific offenders, dealing with crime hot spots in the city and also crime causation  – in other words what drives crime.

He said police require significant analytical work so officers can channel their energy and effort on the people who are causing the most harm here.

“It’s been proven a small percentage of the criminals, 10 per cent, are responsible for over 70 per cent the crimes that are committed,” Mehdizadeh added.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen said the initiative during four years will be just over a third of one per cent of property tax increase. In 2023, the impact will amount to about 68 cents a month or about $8.20 on a resident’s tax bill, the mayor said.

The mayor added community safety is an important part of the council’s action plan, giving a shoutout to police and the commission for the work they’ve done.

Deputy mayor Ryan Parker said a lot of work has been done behind the scenes getting to the budget number.

Policing and community safety are always a No. 1 priority across the country, Parker said.

He said he agreed with councillor Jeff Carlson there are other ways to address crime “but at the end of the day I think the community would support this 100 per cent and I know that the money is being spent properly and responsibly and it’s up to us as a council to make sure the appropriate funding is in place.”

Councillor Belinda Crowson, who opened discussion, closed it before the vote by saying “in my perspective the world is a complex and complicated place. We need to address social concerns, we need housing, we need mental health, we need all those social programs” that make a vibrant community in ways that can’t be imagined and she would continue fighting for those.

“But binary thinking is only for computers and I will continue to support the police as well because the police are part of the community.”

She said the police will be getting funding but council needs to think about the other things missing in the community.

She also said “workers matter” as another reason for her support. When workers are overworked, stressed and having difficulty doing their jobs, it’s something council has to be concerned with.

Councillor Nick Paladino told the SPC the city has a bad reputation when it comes to crime but LPS is turning things around and “our police force is doing the best they can with what they currently (have) but they are challenged. They desperately need more personnel. We have an obligation to the citizens of Lethbridge, we need to ensure them that they are and will be safe no matter where they are – downtown or anywhere else. The previous reduction to the police budget was a mistake.”

Carlson stated it’s been eight years since the LPS had an expansion in staff and “it’s pretty apparent” with overtime costs and burnout that it’s incumbent on council to recognize those challenges and “put our money where our mouth is to say thank you for the work you’ve done.”

Councillor John Middleton-Hope said Lethbridge is “a mid-sized city with big-city problems. This has been growing for the past two decades.”

He said council and police commission have the responsibility to provide for adequate and effective resources to provide police services to Lethbridge.

Acting mayor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel added her support saying “This is in our strategic plan, focusing on community, making it a priority of our city. Our police is dealing with a number of increased costs just like the City organization is and our police service keeps getting work and expectations added to their plate and they need the resources to serve our community. Calls are increasing in complexity and their service needs civilian staff to support the work of policing and keeping our police doing police work.”

She said safety affects everything in Lethbridge including attraction and retention to the city, how residents feel and speak about it.

“This is about more than policing, it’s about our city’s ability to attract new businesses and retain our current businesses. It’s about attracting and retaining doctors, attracting and retaining students for our post-secondaries and it’s about growing our city as a whole.”

LPS has 165 staff and when compared to forces of similar size in Canada, it should have about 212.

But the commission and LPS are trying to be realistic with their budget request, the SPC was told.

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buckwheat

Of the 165 on staff, does anyone have a break down of how many are on each watch on the street and the makeup. How many Uniforms are in administration, and the number of civilian staff. On each watch how many are answering calls and what is the intended level of man/woman power per watch. Also does anyone have the numbers of complaints filed, just not the number assigned, but the number that required physical attendance. Phone in reports requiring no attendance don’t count. It should be noted that watch members are four on, four off, work six months of the year, take holidays and have several other days. I think they work about 4.5 months in a year. Any thoughts.

bladeofgrass

Mehdizadeh says: It’s been proven a small percentage of the criminals, 10 per cent, are responsible for over 70 per cent the crimes that are committed”. So my question is, Why aren’t those 10% of criminals put in JAIL?? Our crime rate would only be at 30%! Where will all the money come from to buy this housing, social services etc etc that he also mentions. How much money do you think the taxpayer has? There’s a recession and many are worried about paying our heating bills, food never mind more taxes. I think the money to pay for more needed officers and admin should come from our Judicial system’s budget, as they’re the ones who are allowing the ‘catch and release’ system to continue which costs us an outrageous amount of money.