Downtown Watch: New Lethbridge Safety Initiative Making a Difference

Watch Team Leads Brittani Knowles (left) & Madison Motheral (right) walk behind businesses near the Supervised Consumption Site. Photo credit to CJOC News (Pat Siedlecki)

The program, approved last fall by City Council, was set up to try and curb safety concerns downtown and although still very early, it appears so far to be working.

Building relationships and trust might be the single most important goal of Lethbridge's new downtown Watch.

The program has been walking the streets for only a few weeks, however those involved say it's already making a difference.

Watch Team Lead, Brittani Knowles says getting know people who frequent the downtown makes a all the difference. "There are a lot of resources so if people are homeless or walking the street they may not be aware of where to go or who to turn to. We tend to be friendly with people and they do come up to us or we do offer them resources within the city."

Team Lead Madison Motheral says they get to know some folks by name and that helps build trust. She says in once instance, a woman who was skeptical of the Watch eventually came forward to chat about issues she was having. Motheral says the two began talking about detox and other services to try and help that person. 

She notes citizens, business owners, and people who spend a lot of time downtown are quite happy to see the red shirts and jackets walking the downtown. "A lot of people stop us and talk to us and thank us and praise us for what we are doing. They certainly feel our presence is positive for the city and that we are helping out."

The downtown Watch hit the streets in late April following recruiting and training. The initiative aims to enhance safety downtown and curb ongoing concerns that business owners have had over the past year. The program is also modelled after similar programs which have been very successful in other cities including Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Both Knowles and Motheral says getting to know people and building those relationships is very key to making this a success. Motheral says in a very short period of time this job has given her a different perspective on things. "I wasn't building relationships with the homeless population before this and now that I am, I see how they live. I can never compare my life to theirs, but my viewpoint has changed a lot since I started as a Team Lead at The Watch."

The two say they walk about 25 to 30 km in a 10 hour shift, helping to be the eyes and ears for the police. Our radio station had a chance this week to spend a few hours with the pair as they made their way around the downtown. They check bushes for people, walk around back lanes, check dumpsters, and also pick-up and dispose of needles if they find one.  

Knowles feels they are making a big difference in such a short period of time. "We do see that walking around day after day, seeing the same people and having good conversations and getting to know them better, we are building a lot of relationships."

Right now there are 24 Watch volunteers. All volunteers have been provided with comprehensive training including non-violent crisis intervention, street awareness and patrol safety tactics, CPR and First Aid, diversity awareness, citizen powers of arrest, report writing and note-taking, mental health awareness, occupational health and safety and more.

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