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Community Peace Officers trained and ready to patrol Lethbridge solo

Community Peace Officers are now fully trained and hitting the streets. Danica Ferris / Global News

Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) has now fully trained its nine Community Peace Officers (CPOs) and, as of Thursday, they are patrolling the downtown streets solo.

“It’s very, very exciting,” said Sgt. Mike Williamson, who has managed the CPO program since its inception.

“They have had 22 weeks of training, 16 weeks of field training with an experience police officer, and over the next couple of weeks, they are going to be starting to roll out in a staggered start downtown,” he said.

CPOs will be primarily patrolling on foot, with a focus on the downtown core.

“They are going to be seven days a week, and they are going to have an increased law enforcement presence in the downtown.

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“With some of the concerns that we have down here, they are really going to help in those areas.”

The officers can enforce a variety of provincial statutes, as well as some provisions of the Criminal Code. They also have authority as City of Lethbridge bylaw officers.

For the CPOs, building relationships in the downtown is a big focus.

“Community engagement is a huge part of a police department,” said Raelene Austin, the first CPO to hit the streets on Thursday.

“Getting to know the businesses, getting to know the concerns of the businesses, and having authorities to be able to deal with that,” she said.

“Shoplifting, theft, mischief of property downtown… that is one of the biggest calls that you get in the downtown area, and I have full authority to deal with those.”

Williamson said that with the CPOs dealing with petty crime downtown, it will lift some of the burden on LPS officers.

“The CPOs are designed to take less complex calls and help free-up other officers to go to other, more serious investigations,” he said.

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Williamson added that the program has already drawn the attention of other cities in the province, as Lethbridge is the only Alberta city with such officers.

“This is being viewed by the province as a pilot project,” he said. “There are other communities that have contacted me to find out what we’re doing and how they can do it in their communities as well.”

The LPS will be recruiting for a new class of CPOs soon, with future training anticipated in early 2020.

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