Combating lawlessness in downtown Lethbridge

The Downtown Lawlessness Reduction Task Force received presentations from three organizations on Thursday, on how they can address issues in the downtown.

The task force was established back in December as a sub-committee reporting through the Safety and Social Standing Policy Committee.

The team is made up of members from city council, city administration, the Downtown BRZ, Lethbridge Fire and EMS, and the Lethbridge Police Service. The goal is to tackle and address concerns around lawlessness.

During a Thursday morning meeting, a number of presentations were made to the DLR Task Force, something that chair Hunter Heggie says will help give the committee an idea on how they can tackle the problem.

“We know what the big problems are within our city,” said Heggie. “If we can get information we can target it right down to individual things that are happening. So, just one at a time, start to make our city better.”

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The LPS kicked off the round of presentations, with several slides containing data from May to August 2023, one of the busier times of the year for enforcement.

“We certainly saw an increase to our crime data for the first portion of the year, probably up to the end of June beginning of July, we made a shift within the organization on how we dealt with some of the things… since July we’ve seen a steady decrease,” deputy chief Gerald Grobmeier said.

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“But we certainly did see a spike at the beginning of the year.”

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In their presentation, the LPS indicated there’s been an 850 per cent increase in assaults on victims with no fixed address, jumping from six in 2022 to 57 in 2023.

Downtown break and enters have also doubled, with 44 calculated in the past year while the year prior only accounted for 18.

Data used in the presentation excluded less serious violations but did include drug complaints.

Of the total 6,419 occurrences brought forward in the presentation, 984 of them were accounted for in the Downtown BRZ zone alone. It’s an area that spans from Highway 3 to Sixth Avenue South and from Stafford Drive to Scenic Drive South.

Grobmeier adds that the nation-wide drug crisis plays into the number of crimes being reported downtown.

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“The types of drugs that are out now are adding to the aggressiveness of some individuals, which we didn’t see years ago,” Grobmeier said. “People were still doing drugs but it’s the effect of the drug that it’s having on the individuals, the need to feed that habit as well causes them to commit more crime.”

A presentation from deputy fire chief Kevin McKeown also showed there’s been a 133 per cent increase in the number of fires in the outlined downtown area, with incendiary fires being one of the biggest problems.

“Some of the issues we talked about today was the increase in outside fires, and nuisance fires that have been occurring downtown,” said McKeown. “What we found from our data that we presented on was there was a significant increase in outside fires from 2022 to 2023, we saw just over a doubling of outside fires.”

Lethbridge Fire and EMS look to combat these issues by creating awareness on the fires that can be preventable.

McKeown says securing materials like garbage bins, sheds and limiting combustible fuels is a step in prevention.

John James, a downtown business owner and resident, says the task force is a step in the right direction, but hopes a proper management plan can be formed to deal with the high crime as people look to invest and build in the city centre.

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“It’s good to see them being organized and trying to have a task force to look at the problems of downtown. I agree with what they’re saying about fires and loitering and illegal uses downtown,” said James.

“You know we spent a lot of money downtown as business owners, as has the City of Lethbridge, however I think we need a strategy to find out what the problem is and how to fix it. That’s the main thing. I don’t think it’s the money, it’s really having a business plan to fix it.”

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