Lethbridge police chief Shahin Mehdizadeh says service cuts may be inevitable if a $1-million budget reduction from city council comes to fruition.
Last week, the finance committee voted to recommend a $1-million cut to the Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) budget in both 2021 and 2022. But on Monday, city council said it was putting off its decision on the recommended budget until Dec. 14. Council has to approve the amended operating budget before any of the changes recommended by the finance committee would be official.
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At the Lethbridge Police Commission meeting on Tuesday night, Medizadeh told commission members that the majority of the LPS budget is made up by salaries, and a reduction of this size could mean fewer officers in the department and potentially on the streets.
“Any cut to the police budget may mean some reduction in service,” Mehdizadeh said. “That would be a 2.5 per cent cut to our budget, which again, when you look at a police force of our size, it’s significant.”
The City of Lethbridge confirmed to Global News on Wednesday that the recommendation from the finance committee is a decrease of $1 million in both 2021 and 2022, for a total of $2 million over the next two years.
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The reduction recommendation early last week was followed by the finance committee showing support for three LPS programs requiring approval for conditional funding; LPS’ community peace officers (CPOs), the Watch and the Police and Crisis Team (PACT).
The trio of programs cost almost $3 million per year combined.
Mayor Chris Spearman is a member of the police commission. At Tuesday’s meeting, he said that if LPS chose to defund any of the three programs in order to use the money elsewhere, it could impact the credibility of future requests from the police to council.
But Mehdizadeh reiterated his support for the initiatives on Tuesday.
“The programs are there for a reason, they are doing good work,” he said. “We’re not going to hire people just to get rid of them because I want to put (money) into different programs.”
Mehdizadeh added that the PACT initiative is something he could see expanding in the future.
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If the budget cut is approved by city council on Dec. 14, the police commission will be asked to present a proposed plan to absorb the reduction by the end of February.
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