Lethbridge police see jump in calls to supervised consumption site

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Lethbridge Police see jump in calls to supervised consumption site
WATCH ABOVE: Lethbridge police are feeling the pressure after a jump in calls to the area around the city's supervised consumption site. One local group says the number may be more representative of the community’s attitude toward the site than an increase in criminal activity. Emily Olsen reports – Sep 26, 2019

Lethbridge police are feeling the pressure after a jump in calls to the area around the city’s supervised consumption site.

A report released at the police commission meeting Wednesday night showed there were seven calls in 2017 to the are where ARCHES’ supervised consumption site now calls home. In 2018, that number jumped to 464 calls.

That’s an increase of 6,000 per cent from 2017 to 2018.

“When you actually break down the number of calls for service with the night club being there, having seven, then jumping into the 400s the next year — [this] is really the numbers people should focus on,” Acting chief Scott Woods said.

The report outlines the reasons for calls, number of calls based on the area of town, and a year-to-year comparison before and after the supervised consumption site opened.

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Woods said the numbers may seem shocking, but asserts that they represent calls to service, not arrests or instances of crime.

There are a lot of calls specific to that site with people being banned or disturbances, nuisances, those types of things.”

The top reasons listed in the report were disturbance/nuisance and suspicious/unwanted persons.

The Facebook group Lethbridge Supports Harm Reduction viewed the numbers in a different light.

One administrator, Tim Slaney, commented that it may be more reflective of the community’s attitude toward the SCS.

“We do see on Facebook, a large number of people will say just that,” Slaney said.

“That they look for vehicles leaving the site, which most often belong to staff, and they would call in to say an intoxicated driver is leaving the area. And what that does is the police then are called to a crime that never existed.”

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Slaney works in the area and commented that he often sees concerned community members driving past the SCS.

There’s a large number of citizens opposed to the site or maybe just concerned about the site. They’re coming downtown to see it with their own eyes. They’re seeing homelessness, they’re seeing drug addiction, things they’re not used to,” Slaney said.

They may think that somebody is intoxicated when they’re just sleeping. They may think that someone with no safe place to go who is sitting in the shade may be trying to use drugs or setting up camp. Sometimes they may just think they’re in distress and would like someone to take a look.”

“I would urge people to contact the SCS if they are concerned before using police resources,” Slaney said.

“Rely on the addictions experts — the people who are most qualified to decide whether or not we need to involve police and take their attention away from some of the thefts and break-ins that we’ve seen in the city.”

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As for the city, Woods said the council has had the report for some time, including during decision making for the future of the SCS.

“My understanding was when there was some town hall stuff with the supervised consumption site recently, the city had those statistics available.”

Missing from attendance in the commission meeting were Mayor Chris Spearman and Councillor Jeff Coffman.

The Lethbridge Police Service may not struggle with the volume of calls for long, with the incoming assistance of The Watch and Community Peace Officers.

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