Lethbridge is one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada, which is one reason behind an increase in calls for service to police this year, already up more than 1,800 calls compared to all of last year.
“I think we’re at a crossroads and we need to look at ourselves a little bit and decide where we’re going and where we need to go,” president of the Lethbridge Police Association (LPA) Jay McMillan said.
McMillan says for years, the association has been asking for adequate staffing for front-line policing.
“We are certainly below what is the average for this part of the country,” he said.
According to McMillan, the average police force across the Prairies has 191 officers for every 100,000 people. Lethbridge only has 170 members.
The latest 2016 data from Statistics Canada shows the number of police officers per 100,000 population at 171.9 for Alberta, 194.1 for Manitoba and 200.2 for Saskatchewan; which is an average of 188.7 across the Prairies.
After a recent independent study, a new strategy is in the works. It includes a redrawing of police zones, down from six teams to four, and staggering start times for officers to increase the amount of police officers on the street.
“This will offer greater accountability to the north, the south, the downtown and the west, rather than having officers flying all over the city,” Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis said.
The LPA said only 17 officers have been assigned to the teams starting in January, down from the 21 recommended in the report.
“I think you can re-label it anyway you want, but if you don’t actually have the resources or numbers to fill those zones, that becomes a bit of a concern for us, and it should be for the community, as well,” McMillan said.
Although Davis says it’s a work in progress, the LPA says issues like the staggered start times still need to be negotiated, which is a process that could take months.
These issues aren’t unique to Lethbridge. One expert says law enforcement agencies across the country face similar situations.
“Police services have to show they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got and they have to identify their gaps to indicate if they want additional resources, that’s the new reality,” said Curt Griffiths, professor in the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University.
“We want to be part of what that change is, for sure,” McMillan said. “We’re just very cognizant of the fact that that change has to come in really well-structured steps and through the proper process.”
McMillan said negotiations are expected to begin at the start of December.