Couple this with the fact that the post was released 1 day after a meeting of the Police Commission in which a lawyer for a CBC reporter and Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips (NDP) asked for a public review of the actions of LPS personnel regarding whistle-blower information about retaliation against Ms. Phillips and the CBC reporter. Assertions by the lawyer in question were made to the Police Commission that officers that were penalized for their role in stalking Ms. Phillips while she was Minister for the Environment a few years ago and improper use of police resources (accessing databases). It is important to note that the officers implicated in these serious accusations were not dismissed, and are either on administrative leave or are still in active duty, though I understand there have been some demotions as punishment.
So, why am I writing about this today? Well, to lay it all out there: as the kid of a cop this kind of behavior is extremely disturbing to me. I was raised in an RCMP household and was taught that police have a responsibility to their communities to serve and protect everyone in their community. I believe police action should come from a place of service, rather than a place of "force" as so many of our law-enforcement personnel now refer to themselves.
However, what I'm not okay with is this ongoing, pervasive culture of entitlement that seems apparent with some of our police. There are regular reports of police not responding to urgent calls, or berating survivors of sexual assault. There are police with reprimand letters framed in their office: as though belligerence in the "force" is a point of pride.
These are not good police. As the saying goes: a few bad apples spoil the bunch.
So where do we go from here?
Well, City Council is limited in our powers to affect how the police operate in our community. The only real control we DO have is the budget, which I would argue is actually an excellent tool to help guide the communities response to ongoing issues.
One of the biggest questions I get as a candidate is if I will "restore the police budget." You see, when COVID hit, the provincial government reneged on the municipal grant that helps us balance the budget. Cities aren't allowed to run deficits, so when the municipal grant from the province was cut, the outgoing council had to re-open the operational budget and find efficiencies to help balance the books. One of the things they cut: $1million from the Police operating budget.
Now, a lot of folks think this is a shocking thing to cut. "The Crime!" They cry. And many candidates in this municipal race have latched onto the outcry promising to restore the police budget, and in many cases even increase it, to help with our apparently abysmal Crime Severity Index rating.
You can read a really thorough recent breakdown of the CSI stats and how Lethbridge actually compares to other communities over on Kim Siever's news blog here. Mr. Siever does a really excellent breakdown of how stats have changed and where Lethbridge actually ranks.
However, it is important to note that this budget cut from the City was able to be stabilized through the LPS's internal budgeting due to previous years' surpluses. So in effect: the City didn't actually cut policing. They just have to dip into their reserve fund a bit.
However, how we approach solving the problem of homelessness and addiction will really set our community apart.
Essentially, we have an option: Continue with a regressive approach of over-relying on our police service to deal with mental health and addictions issues despite an overflowing court system and the fact that they are inadequately trained at dealing with these issues (this just sets our police service up for failure and isn't fair to our service members).
Elect progressive municipal leaders who will analyze our investment in our policing services, ensuring they are well funded enough to do their jobs properly, but also moving the burden of homelessness and addictions off of their plate and into the mental health stream where it should be. We can make policies that will help fund social organizations and outreach to help transition people into safe supportive housing, create the relationships needed to move people into recovery, and immediately decrease property and non-violent crime in the community so our residents can feel confident and safe in our public spaces again.
The City has an opportunity to make positive changes at a policy level that will filter down to how our administrators and police service deals with addictions, homelessness, and mental health issues. We have the ability to put funding into finding socially appropriate ways to tackle these issues through a lens of public health, rather than law enforcement. We have an opportunity to completely change perceptions in Lethbridge.
Finally, we need some kind of metric with which to measure the success of initiatives put forward by the LPS. Just chronically throwing money into policing is not going to get us anywhere if that money is misspent (not saying it is, I'm just saying there haven't been many metrics and performance indicators lately to judge efficacy). Moving forward with policing in our community, I think we need to take a hard look at how effective our police service is, and how transparent they are about their operations.
To all frontline service-members in our community: you do have my support. However, I expect much of you: leadership and integrity being chief among those expectations. I know you will not disappoint me.