Petition calls for Lethbridge Watch to be defunded; Manager speaks out
Two Watch, Team Leads patrol the downtown in May 2019. Photo credit to My Lethbridge Now.com (Pat Siedlecki)
The Lethbridge Police Service says the downtown Watch serves all citizens and a recent online petition makes numerous allegations and inaccurately portrays the program’s mandate and operations.
The petition on Change.org — Defund The Watch in Lethbridge — wants City Council to stop funding the Watch, accusing the program of harassing people on the street and being a “comfort for white people at the cost of ignoring our unhoused population”.
Watch Manager Jeff Cove says the program is very diverse and serves all citizens. “We’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been providing a great service to all of the citizens, inclusive of the vulnerable communities”.
Cove says some of the information put out against the Watch is incorrect and not researched, saying no one contacted him for any numbers.
“Citizens to us include individuals who are vulnerable in our community,” says Cove. “Not just business owners, not just residents who have homes. Our stakeholders group is vast and I don’t think there is a lot of appreciation paid to that”.
Program updates are presented quarterly to City Council and currently The Watch is funded until the end of 2020.
Lethbridge Police provided the following current information on the Watch:
- The Watch is staffed primarily by volunteers ranging in age from mid 20s to early 60s – from all walks of life and various ethnicities.
- All volunteers receive comprehensive training including FNMI and diversity awareness, street awareness and safety, CPR and First Aid, de-escalation techniques, overdose recognition and Narcan administration, mental health and suicide awareness and more.
- Since its inception in May 2019 The Watch has recorded a total of 2,325 events – 70% of which are public service calls which include wellness checks, assisting with found property and motor vehicles, assisting businesses, contacting social service providers and deescalating situations.
- Calling paramedics for vulnerable individuals in medical distress accounts for 6% of the total events recorded.
- Police contacts account for 19% of all events and many involve The Watch calling police on behalf of vulnerable individuals who have been the victim of a crime – often theft, assault or domestic violence.
- The Watch has contacted DOT (Downtown Outreach Team) on 650 occasions to facilitate rides for the homeless population and ensure they get where they need to go.
- While volunteers do not pick up needles, as they are not equipped to do so, on 828 occasions when improperly disposed needles were located volunteers contacted ARCHES to facilitate clean up.