Late last month, RCMP laid 24 drug-related charges against 16 people, after months of investigation into what police called an organized crime ring in the city.
Police said that Red Deer was ripe for further gang activity, and that nine organized crime groups operate in the city.
“We know that there is no specific gang that claims Red Deer as their turf. That’s why we see more than one organized crime group in the community,” Red Deer City RCMP Supt. Warren Dosko said on July 31.
“They see it as an opportunity to expand their business and move into our community.”
That news raised alarm bells around the community, and for good reason.
But now, the roadblocks to gang activity are going up.
Red Deer has been the only major city in the province without an anti-gang task force, until this week.
On Monday, Red Deer city council agreed to provide up to $150,000 to create work space for a special police unit that will tackle organized crime. It will also help fund six officers, three new and three from the existing force, to join the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT). ALERT will provide an organized, regional response to organized crime.
Additional funds from the province and the federal government would add another 12 staff to the task force.
In late July, Dosko said that “Organized crime in Red Deer has been growing. We know that Red Deer’s location plays a key role, being centrally located between Calgary and Edmonton.”
Even in crime, our location and our transportation links make us an economic hub. Our robust economy, no doubt, also makes us attractive to drug sellers.
Council is well aware that crime is a major concern for Red Deerians. The last municipal election, in the fall of 2010, revolved around taxation levels, snow removal and crime rates.
Most citizens would put up with an increase in taxes in order to be assured that everything possible was being done to inhibit the growth in crime in Red Deer.
Policing costs account for slightly less than 10 per cent of the municipal budget, or about $250 from every citizen each year. That seems reasonable to ensure safety and, in fact, we should all be willing to pay more if it meant a greater feeling of security.
“Anything we can do to interfere with the drug trade and organized crime in a real advantage,” Mayor Morris Flewwelling said on Monday.
This is the third significant move by council in the last year to make citizen safety a priority.
A year ago, council endorsed the presence of the RCMP as our municipal force, with additional resources to handle non-criminal issues. The policing model that is now entrenched also includes commissionaires, bylaw officers and traffic services officers, plus former Mounties who provide various services on contract basis. The decision gave stability to future policing plans.
Last fall, city council endorsed a Strategic Direction document that included two critical focus points in the battle against crime: designing and planning a community reflecting desired character and values; and enhancing and promoting a safe community. In essence, the framework for future policing plans was established.
Now the first critical piece of specific anti-crime planning has been put in place.
Thanks to council’s prudent spending decision this week, we will have the resources to support the intent: to ensure that Red Deer is as safe as possible, and as inhospitable as possible to the criminal element.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.