June 14th, 2024

The Watch looking ahead to the next five years

By Lethbridge Herald on June 3, 2024.

Members of the Watch, Tashiah Robbins and Chantel Deazevedo, speak with two men on Friday afternoon at the pergola in Galt Gardens. Herald photo by Justin Sibbet

Justin Sibbet – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Always seen wearing red, some Lethbridge volunteers have come together to administer over 200 Narcan deployments, potentially saving just as many lives.

The Watch has become a staple in the downtown community, having patrolled the streets for over five years. However, when considering their future, the next half decade is even more crucial for the organization.

Shane Kissinger, manager of the Watch, says, while it is impossible to predict the future, there are plans to expand the role of the organization. This includes leaving the traditional boundaries, which he says were “arbitrarily drawn” when the Watch was founded.

“We are, this year, going to go outside of those boundaries just to do the outreach for the encampment response team, which we’re going to take (on) this year,” said Kissinger. 

He says the current territory of the Watch may also need to be shifted if the homeless population moves outside of the patrolled areas. 

“If they start getting heavily policed in the downtown core, they’ll move out. So, if they keep moving past where we’re seeing them in the downtown core, I can see (the boundaries changing).”

However, when it comes to patrolling the entirety of Lethbridge, he says it is simply not a plausible goal.

“With the budget that I do have right now and the staffing, we just don’t have the ability to cover (the city). It’d have to be a reduction in service.”

Currently the Watch has around 17 volunteers and even fewer paid staffers. 

That said, Kissinger says if they were to require more bodies, but not more patrol space, it would likely be because they are failing to do their job effectively.

“It means we would require an extra layer of security or we’re going to have more overdose deaths.”

He says most members stick with the Watch for around two or three years, but some have stayed longer. 

One such long-term member is Tashiah Robbins, a team lead. She says the organization has come a long way from when she first joined five years ago. 

“We’ve built lots of rapport with the downtown population, the unhoused, business owners. So, they know we’re here to help them and fill out any paperwork, any social service outreach… as well as safe walks,” said Robbins.

One highlight for Robbins is the safety of the Watch, saying no members have been involved in any injuries or dangers while on patrol.

“Some people think that it’s unsafe to be around and that’s why they don’t want to apply with us, but I can assure you that it is a safe environment.”

While apparent safety concerns may be a hurdle for some to join, Kissinger says a lot of criminal justice students find the Watch to be a great stepping stone in the path to policing.

“A lot of our volunteers, I don’t think (would join) because they do want to go into policing and they do like having that connection… working in the building alongside police officers.”

He says one common complaint they receive from the community is a lack of Indigenous members. Kissinger says he does wish he could recruit more, but it is not always a possibility. 

“It’s tough when you can either volunteer with Sage Clan or (the Watch) and Sage Clan can take you right away while I have to put you through interviews, background checks.”

One Indigenous member of the Watch who requested to remain anonymous says they are one of just two Indigenous individuals within the organization. 

For residents looking to volunteer, get more information or schedule a safe walk downtown, they can call 403-715-9255.

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