City council given update on realigned Lethbridge police beats
The Lethbridge Police Service has been operating within four newly rezoned police beats for the past month. The organization is now preparing to take its next step in January — assigned officer beats.
But before doing that, Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis and Police Commission chair Lee Cutforth wanted to provide an update to city council on the organization’s operational strategies and direction going forward.
The plan was earlier shared at last month’s Police Commission meeting. Davis said he brought it forward to council after encouragement from Coun. Joe Mauro.
“He loved the presentation and felt it was really important because we have a new council with two brand new members,” said Davis. “Coun. Mauro loved the philosophy. He talked about how when he was child growing up in Lethbridge and into adulthood, you knew who your police officers were.”
The LPS recently completed two processes to review and enhance operations, including an exercise with a criminal justice management consultant which identified a need for increased efficiencies. They have updated the organization’s mission, vision and values, and realigned patrol zones based on call volume.
“Traditionally we’ve had six patrol beats in the city and we would be responding to calls as they came in. The end result is you wind up with call swarming, so officers having to go wherever to address calls for service and in doing so, sometimes we’d be leaving beats empty,” said Davis.
The new format has already been in effect since Oct. 23. Beginning in January, officers will be assigned on a more permanent basis to a particular beat. Officers will remain assigned to their beats for a minimum of two years in a strategy to increase efficiency and become familiar with the citizens, issues and concerns in those zones.
“We want them to stay there for a minimum of two years so they actually get to know the community — get to know the citizens, get to know the businesses that are open 24 hours, get to know who that newspaper delivery person is at 3 a.m., get to know all the nuances of that geographical area,” said Davis. “Policing is one of those careers where you were trained to observe. And when you see something that’s out of the norm, you know it’s out of the norm. But if you’re always flying around the city without a specific area it’s hard to develop that.”
The idea is to “own your zone” he explained. It will allow officers to build relationships, increase public engagement and work with neighbourhood associations to add another layer of “eyes and ears” on the ground.
Officers would generally stay within their assigned zone unless there was a serious situation requiring back up.
It’s important for the public to know who their officers are, said Davis. And so far, the feedback he’s received from citizens has been positive.
“When you talk to people that have been in Lethbridge a long time, they remember when they knew who the police officer was in their neighbourhood. Again, when I talked to people coming from different community groups, they liked the idea of having some consistency in who the police officers are that they’re going to be dealing with.”
The number of officers will go from 15 per shift per team to 18, short of the 21 recommended in the consultant’s report. Davis said they will reassess the team numbers after three months.
Negotiations are continuing with the Lethbridge Police Association over the possibility of staggered start times to deal with the flow of calls. The majority of calls come in between 2-11 p.m., Davis explained in a previous interview.
During an earlier news conference, Davis said the independent consultant’s report and recommendations would be made available to the public after being presented to city council. When asked why it still hasn’t been, Davis replied it was due to time constraints within the presentation (which is limited to five minutes).
“We’re not there yet,” he said, noting he wasn’t sure when it would be released.
The plan is still a work in progress, but it starts with those four zones and having officers get to know them, said Davis
“Make that the measure of success — preventing crime in your neighbourhood or if a crime happens, having the connections to solve it quickly.”
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