Many residents came out to the first of four Lethbridge Police Service community conversations on March 21. The events are spread throughout the year and each one is focused on a specific area, with the first being about downtown.
Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh, along with other members of the service, provided a presentation on crime stats and trends before opening the floor to questions.
The presentation showed 37.4 per cent of crime in the city is concentrated on the downtown core — Mehdizadeh pointed out much of the property crime is opportunistic in nature. Crime in Lethbridge is on a downward trend, but the city and surrounding area still tops the Crime Severity Index in the country.
BACKGROUND: Lethbridge tops crime severity index
Members of the public at the forum were concerned about encampments popping up again as the weather warms and questioned the police service’s plan to deal with them.
“We very likely could see an encampment start up — the key really is to make sure that we have officers there soon, the key to last year was really when we started working collaboratively,” said Jason Doberstein, who is in charge of the field operations division. “It’s not simply a police problem, it’s much larger than that that and requires other agencies throughout the community, including the City of Lethbridge, social services, housing, mental health, Alberta health Services, all those players at the table involved collectively if there is a tent that gets set up, an encampment, we all go — it’s not just the police.”
Recruiting was a recurring theme during the conversation, with one attendee asking what the police service does to recruit a more diverse workforce. Mehdizadeh said staffing is an ongoing challenge for the service. He said though the service wants to increase diversity, there are often very few applications for job postings.
“If I have 30 positions and only six people to hire, I am not really worried about their gender or colour of skin, religion or what background they come from, we are going to hire all six of them because they are good people,” he said, adding LPS is actively working to encourage more applications from diverse groups, such as Indigenous people and newcomers to the country. “I am an immigrant myself — a lot of immigrants when they come to this country, they don’t trust the police. They come from countries where police are corrupt and it’s actually a shameful profession so how do we actually attract more of those folks to take interest in policing,” he said.
Other questions posed included asking what the police are doing to keep downtown safe for those who live and work there, with some participants concerned about behaviors seen downtown by people experiencing homelessness.
Mehdizadeh said officers respond to calls on a priority basis and often there is nothing they can do about nuisance calls, which he says are rooted in social issues.
“We can give them a ticket, but they are going to go urinate a block later, that’s not going to solve that individual’s problem or the business owner’s problem. To solve the problem is getting this person off the street, into treatment,” he said. The chief said police are one piece of a whole when it comes to mental health and addictions and officers work with other organizations to help the best they can.
“Adding more police is not going to take our addiction issues out of the community, it’s not going to stop drug overdoses or drug use, there are other ways to help these individuals to get out of that cycle,” Mehdizadeh said.
Something he repeated during the event is that he believes public safety starts at home. He said police are working with community members to encourage them to protect their own property and reduce opportunity crime. He said simply ensuring vehicles and doors are locked goes a long way to reducing crime by making it more challenging.
The next community conversation with Lethrbdige police will be focused on the north side. It will be held at St. Teresa of Calcutta School on April 20 from 6-8 p.m.