Last April 100 police officers descended on a 130-acre rural property near Markerville.
After combing the property for 11 hours, officers seized more than 150 items including drugs, drug paraphernalia, stolen vehicles, firearms, several rail torpedoes and weapons.
It was one of the largest Central Alberta police operations in recent memory and the largest effort by the newly formed Priority Crimes Task Force, which includes Mounties from Blackfalds, Innisfail, Red Deer and Sylvan Lake and support from Lacombe Police Services. RCMP from Rocky Mountain House have since joined.
The task force was designed to crack down on criminals who do business throughout Central Alberta.
Curbing crime in Central Alberta and opening up the communication lines among the six detachments and within units is the main objective, said Red Deer RCMP Sgt. Eric McKenzie.
Sure, information was shared in the past but it was on a very sporadic or as-needed basis.
Now there is a continual flow of information and exchange of resources with regular meetings and phone calls.
But one thing is certain — criminals know no boundaries when it comes to committing crimes.
The police, on the other hand, have very defined working areas.
Sylvan Lake Staff Sgt. Gary Rhodes said the obvious truth is crime crosses borders.
“Criminals in Red Deer do not stay in Red Deer,” said Rhodes. “Criminals in Sylvan Lake do not stay there either. They come into other communities in Central Alberta.”
McKenzie said police have to work better to break down those borders and ensure that they are working together to follow those criminals wherever they go.
They have also found that criminal groups from across the province are renting properties in rural areas.
Red Deer boasts the largest RCMP detachment in the province with 159 officers.
That’s good news for the surrounding detachments, which can take advantage of the additional manpower and resources.
“One detachment on its own has a hard time dealing with that because of the resources and the time it takes to investigate these crimes,” said Rhodes.
Files and information are shared so if a crime is committed in Sylvan Lake and has the same modus operandi as one in Blackfalds, the police can connect the dots much faster.
Bobby and the Kids is an example of a street gang operating in Penhold and Red Deer but conducting business throughout the region.
Numerous drug, property and weapons charges were laid by police after the task force descended simultaneously on two Red Deer homes and a Penhold address in November. Police seized 55 ounces of cocaine, nine ounces of methamphetamine, marijuana, a stolen pistol, drug paraphernalia, and $30,600 in cash.
“You have the Markerville file,” he said. “It’s tiny and it’s out in the middle of nowhere. But what a great place to have an operation.”
On April 13, the task force raided three homes in Red Deer and broke up another significant drug operation in Timberlands and Garden Heights. Police seized more than eight kg of marijuana, 1.3 kg of cocaine, 240 Oxycontin pills, 1.4 kg of magic mushrooms, weapons, cash and other drugs and drugs paraphernalia.
The task force is gaining steam across the jurisdictions as it continues to disrupt medium and major crime operations.
Rhodes said the task force has had a lot of success and there has been a decrease in crimes such as stolen vehicles, theft from vehicles and break and enter, which are fuelling the drug trade, particularly in the rural areas.
“The RCMP in Alberta, when needed, send resources,” said Rhodes. “For example we had a search warrant on a property in Sylvan Lake last year where there were over 90 RCMP members on site for protection and searching. Very large property. We can get those resources when we need them and that’s how we are being effective.”
McKenzie said this model is gaining attention across the province and is being mirrored in other jurisdictions. He said the police do not have all the answers but they are trying new techniques and strategies to combat crimes.
Property crimes are increasing and it is often linked to drug use and population growth.
As communities get larger, people believe they are less known and can disappear in the crowd.
“So it’s easier for them to commit crimes and avoid detection,” said McKenzie. “In this town where I worked and there’s 80 people if someone committed a crime, everybody in town knew who did it and I would hear about it within minutes. Here you have 300,000 in the region, it is quite easy to slip through the cracks and avoid the detection.”
But it may be harder for the criminals to hide with the co-ordinated police efforts.
The task force recently reached out to other agencies that they have not traditionally worked with in the past such as Canada Post and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. It is also working with RCMP’s ALERT, SCAN and the Edmonton and Calgary Police Services. It is also working with the K Division’s prolific offender program.
The public also has a role to play too, said McKenzie. Residents are the eyes and ears of neighbourhoods.
“Members are out there doing the best job they can,” said McKenzie. “We want to catch criminals. We want to solve crime. We want the public to know we’re doing the best we can within the confines of the law. We have certain restrictions that we have to follow. Some people do not understand that. That limits what we can and cannot do. We have to work within that otherwise we are doing unlawful investigations and it does no one any good.”
Taking matters into your own hands, however, is not advised, said McKenzie.
One only has to look at the death of Dawson “DJ” Wegner Cramer, who died after apparently trying to stop thieves from stealing his truck in March.
McKenzie said the best thing to do is to stand back and call the police.
To report a crime call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8277 or visit www.centralalbertacrimestoppers.ca. Contact the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre at www.cacpc.ca for tips on preventing crime from happening in your neighbourhood.