July 20th, 2024

Presentations on downtown safety given at Casa

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 25, 2023.

Herald photo by Steffanie Costigan Matthew Pitcher, housing solution coordinator for the City of Lethbridge, addresses community members during a downtown safety information and education session held Tuesday at the Casa community room.

A downtown safety information and education session was held in the CASA community room Tuesday noon where three safety presentations were given to the community.

Housing Solution Coordinator at City of Lethbridge Matthew Pitcher started the session by sharing the City’s perspective of the challenges being faced downtown.

“From the City’s perspective, we’ve seen over the last couple of years a pretty significant increase in the number of encampments that have been occurring. And that really came to a head during summer last year. We saw encampments that were large and more entrenched at the Civic Center,” said Pitcher.

Pitcher talked about the strategies and collaborations the City has done in an effort to help alleviate downtown challenges and his position within the strategy.

In his position as Housing Solutions co-ordinator, Pitcher and two other staff members are specifically dedicated to work on a strategy that includes a lot of partnership opportunities.

The City presentation shared statistics in Lethbridge which showed that a total of 92 encampments had been identified in the last reporting period. Pitcher said the three-tier system involving Streets Alive, The Watch, and police collaborate on issues downtown – depending on the severity of each situation.

Shane Kisinger, manager of The Watch, said the purpose of that organization is to de-escalate issues and situations downtown before police need to get involved.

“We’re one extra layer of security in the downtown core” businesses and the downtown population, providing an extra set of eyes and ears that can contact police or EMS if needed, he said.

“We’re also the eyes and ears of social and community services. They reach out to us – lots of young people in programs. We’re trying to get people into treatments, and they need help locating them,” explained Kisinger.

Kisinger elaborated on The Watch and how they administer lifesaving measures when necessary for drug overdoses or help escort community members who are not feeling safe.

The next presentation was by David Gabert, communications lead and project coordinator of Canadian Mental Health Association who spoke on the purpose of the Diversion Outreach Team (DOT).

“Our three goals are really to divert calls from LPs and EMS whenever possible, to provide transportation to safe shelter to vulnerable individuals and to try our best to enhance that kind of safety by responding to (misbehaviour),” said Gabert.

Sergeant Ryan Darroch of the LPS Downtown Policing Unit was the last to speak and he addressed the shortage of police officers in Lethbridge and the efforts LPS is making to increase their numbers.

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I support LPS DPU and their hard work they have done in the downtown core,applaud them and the city for the encampment strategy, along with the various departments needed to employ the encampment strategy.
I have seen considerable changes and those actions prevented a growing persence of encampments and increased crime on our streets.
Now, we need more police to enforce the laws and cleanup the gangs and organized crime who have increased their operations in this city due to the crisis.
Downtown issues are at their highest after the Watch ends their shifts and the DTU shifts end in the late evening, These criminals, who hang out all night committing crimes, damaging property, break and entering, starting fires, etc., are all the same gang members who sell drugs, sell sex services of prostitutes, often trafficked, broker stolen goods and loiter, and litter around businesses, including all sides and sometimes even on rooftops if them gain access.
This needs more police and more training and will not happen overnight. LPS are dedicated and doing all they can, but it didn’t help when the last Council removed over $1million from their budget. We are understaffed for the size of our city and last figures were by over 20 members.
Recruiting is a North American wide problem due to the ‘defund police’ crowds and condemnation of police. They need our support and the only ones I see who are calling to defund police are ones that either call police when someone just looks at them the wrong way, or have been caught doing something wrong and have a grudge.
We need police, unless you want chaos and armed gangs governing.