February 28th, 2024

MHPS to bolster downtown patrol through spring, summer

By KENDALL KING on April 22, 2023.

Medicine Hat Police Service aims to keep community members safe throughout the warm weather months, downtown and throughout the city. -- SUBMITTED PHOTO

kking@medicinehatnews.com

Medicine Hat Police Service plans to bolster its downtown patrol through the spring and summer months, with the aim of increasing safety for all.

MHPS Operational Division inspector Joe West says increased activity in the downtown core throughout the warm weather months necessitates a greater police presence, particularly that of the Downtown Patrol Unit.

“Our officers are encouraged to make sure the downtown is a safe and comfortable place to be,” West told the News. “And, usually, the presence of our DPU has a great, positive impact on that.”

West said staffing challenges reduced the DPU to only one officer through the winter, however a second officer will be joining the unit in early May; and MHPS hopes to add a third by July, which would bring unit staffing back to the same level as seen last year.

As per DPU operations, West says the unit will focus on addressing safety concerns, the most common of which are encampments, social disorder and bylaw infractions.

“With the warmer weather, we do see the erecting of tents and various types of shelters,” West told the News. “Our stance has been that these encampments … are a public safety hazard for the occupants and others around. So, we are going to make sure that we have resources in place to accommodate people who may be sleeping outside, and so forth.”

West made clear that forceful removal of individuals sleeping outside or living in encampments is the last resort, highlighting that MHPS partners with Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, and other relevant organizations, to ensure individuals in need are offered food and shelter.

He says DPU officers also work to build relationships and establish trust with individuals sleeping outside or residing in encampments.

“We do also have issues with social disorder (downtown),” said West. “And even though a lot of that activity is not criminal, it’s still very disturbing and unsettling to people who (own businesses) downtown and people who go downtown to do business … This might be when we have a person who’s suffering from mental health issues (or is) loitering and hanging around.”

West explained the DPU has several tactics to address such issues, which include working with local partners like the Canadian Mental Health Association’s CARE Team, as well as working to build relationships with business owners and members of the public, such as individuals who frequent the downtown and vulnerable individuals.

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