About 60 RCMP officers — including four specially trained teams — took down a crystal methamphetamine lab and arrested four men near Stettler on Saturday.
RCMP Stettler detachment officers Sgt. Phil Penny and Cpl. Ryan Koehli said Monday that the serious dynamics of the situation required the major response. Crystal meth labs can be dangerous because of the chemicals involved and possibility of explosion, and the suspects had firearms.
RCMP members from Stettler, Bashaw and Killam detachments were involved, but also two Emergency Response Teams (ERT) — one each from Edmonton and Calgary, the RCMP Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response (CLEAR) team, RCMP Special Tactical Operations team, RCMP Air Services, the Stettler Regional Fire Department and Stettler EMS.
A search warrant was executed at about 11:30 a.m. on a rural property about 15 kms northeast of Stettler.
Once RCMP were on the rural property, investigators located, dismantled and seized equipment and other products used to create crystal meth. Several firearms were located and seized, one being a Russian-made SKS assault rifle that was loaded with a 30-round magazine.
According to Health Canada, crystal meth is an illegal, addictive synthetic stimulant, known to have dangerous and unpredictable short-term physical and mental effects.
It was “absolutely” a big operation, Sgt. Penny said.
“We have to concern ourselves with the chemicals, the volatility. Meth labs are highly explosive, and when we’re dealing with anyone in the drug trade in executing a search warrant, our concern is weapons, firearms obviously. Whenever we have information that would suggest there’s firearms involved, we’re going to be pulling in our ERT teams as well.”
“I think a lot of times when you say meth lab, people want to go a Breaking Bad scenario where you have this big warehouse scenario. … That’s not the case. I would suggest that this was a medium-sized operation,” Penny said.
Breaking Bad refers to a well-known American television series crime drama about the making and selling of crystal meth.
Penny could not recall any other instances of a crystal meth lab being dismantled in the Stettler area.
“One of the challenges with meth labs is their portability. Marijuana grow ops you require space, you require energy, you have to deal with neighbours and smell and condensation, whereas the meth lab you can do it in a very contained area, and you can have turnover that’s quite quick.
“There’s meth labs you could fit in a large cooler. That would be a smaller one. It kind of gives you an idea of how challenging these things are,” Penny said.
“Whenever you have these labs … these things can attract their clientele. And … when the addict wants the product and they can’t afford it, that can turn into property crime in our area, break and enters, thefts, all sorts of different things.
“Obviously our goal is to eliminate basically the reason for a lot of these people to be committing these crimes,” he said.
Crystal meth is present in Stettler as it is almost everywhere. It’s not a larger problem than anywhere else, he said.
RCMP used two armoured vehicles in the operation, said Penny.
“There’s two of these showing up on your doorstep. They (suspects) were quite surprised.” The four suspects were taken into custody without incident.
The names of those charged had not been released by press time. Three of them appeared in court on Monday for bail hearings.
They are all known to police and include a 37-year-old and 67-year-old from Stettler, 30-year-old from Big Valley, and a 26-year-old from Drumheller.