Put a lid on drug houses

Three and a half years after Brandon Neil Prevey, 29, was murdered while he sat in his vehicle in Inglewood, a nearby drug house has been shut down by police.

Three and a half years after Brandon Neil Prevey, 29, was murdered while he sat in his vehicle in Inglewood, a nearby drug house has been shut down by police.

The neighbours can begin to relax, hoping that this will end the “constant criminal activity” on an otherwise well-maintained, peaceful street.

But it is difficult to wash away the memories of a shooting.

It is just as difficult to get out of the habit of looking warily at every unfamiliar vehicle that drives down the street.

Such is the fear and uncertainty bred by the presence of a drug house, driven by the desperate, often dangerous people who come knocking at its door.

When the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) task force announced that it had closed the house at 51 Ibbotson Close in Red Deer on Tuesday, officials also admitted that five similar houses are being investigated in the city. There are likely others in Red Deer that have yet to come to the attention of the SCAN task force. Certainly there are others in the communities surrounding Red Deer.

And that means that far too many Central Albertans live in fear because criminal activity is commonplace on their streets.

SCAN is an initiative of the provincial government, created by 2008 legislation to “promote community safety by targeting properties that are chronically used for ongoing illegal activities.” Those activities include the drug trade, prostitution, child sex abuse and organized crime.

The legislation allows the SCAN task force to close a house for up to 90 days — essentially ending the traffic and bringing peace to the neighbourhood. No charges are laid by the task force.

Given the level of drug trade in this city, it is surprising that this is just the second drug house closed down in Red Deer since 2007.

The lack of resources is likely to blame.

In September 2008, it was announced that two SCAN teams of seven law enforcement officials would be established, one in Calgary to cover Southern Alberta and one in Edmonton, for the northern half of the province. The teams of sheriffs would work with local bylaw officers and police, as needed.

The intent was to focus on investigating the activity that draws concerns from neighbours rather than targeting individuals.

At the time of the launch, the program had an annual budget of $4 million. That budget allowed for the creation of just two teams, but officials said that the program could be expanded to Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Grande Prairie if warranted.

Brian Simpson, Red Deer RCMP superintendent at the time, immediately started talking to officials about the need for a SCAN team in Red Deer.

More than four years later, we still must rely on teams from Calgary or Edmonton to get the job done in Central Alberta.

So for four years, the people of Inglewood have lived in fear, despite constant drug-related activity, and the shooting of Prevey in April 2009.

Police work is rarely simple. In the spring of 2009, after shots were fired near a drug house in Blackfalds, RCMP Staff Sgt. Gord Glasgow talked about how the criminal justice system must rely on due process to ensure fairness. Essentially, we can’t expect police to take the law into their own hands, and without adequate evidence, they can’t search or charge anyone who frequents a drug house.

The SCAN legislation was intended to provide community safety without having to first resort to the laborious process of pursuing prosecution.

“It certainly appears to be good, solid legislation that tries to strike the balance between property rights of a homeowner and property rights of the people who interact with that homeowner,” said Glasgow in 2009.

He was right, it was and remains a good idea.

But without enough teams to answer the need, the legislation does the neighbours of drug houses precious little good.

Waiting in fear for a SCAN team to arrive, year after year, hardly seems like a solution to a growing, frightening problem.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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