This is part three of three-part series on drugs in Red Deer.
Drugs and alcohol are, by far, the largest contributors to crime in Red Deer, says the supervisor of the Red Deer City RCMP’s street team.
Cpl. Len Larson directs a team of plainclothes and undercover officers who work on the streets, keeping in contact with users and dealers in their investigations. Drug enforcement isn’t their only job but it’s a big part of what they do. Street team members also assist in major investigations, including murders, armed robberies and assaults.
“We try to be proactive, dealing with habitual offenders, targeting them,” says Larson.
“People are more apt to talk to us due to the fact that we’re in plain clothes and a little more informal. We don’t hide our identity. We just dress normal and blend in.”
In general, the level of drug-related crime in Red Deer is no different than any other city. But there is a key difference that makes Red Deer unique from other cities where Larson has worked in the past, including Saskatoon and Grande Prairie.
Where drug activities tend to concentrate in specific areas of most cities, the trade is fairly well spread across the city in Red Deer, says Larson.
That’s because, in Red Deer, there is a wide diversity of housing within each neighbourhood, creating a mix of people from widely varied levels of affluence and financial stability.
“I’m not saying that lower income people do more drugs,” says Larson.
“It has a lot to do with rental houses, because drug dealers don’t have a lot of money, normally. If you’re dealing drugs on the street, you can’t get a mortgage, nobody’s going to finance you. So most drug dealers use rental locations. There’s no credit rating when you are hiding your money or live day to day.”
Most of the dealers at street level are users themselves, selling drugs to feed their own habits, says Larson.
That is where drug use and the trade in street drugs fit in as a major contributor to crime in general, including break-ins, robberies, assaults, kidnapping and extortion.
“Drugs and alcohol, I think, are probably 80 to 90 per cent of our crime. From petty theft to spousal abuse to impaired driving to homicide,” says Larson.
Drug users commit break-ins and robberies to get cash or goods that can be converted to cash so they can make their next score.
“One individual may go on a bit of a spree and do three or four armed robberies, or he’ll do one and believe he’s going to jail, so he’ll do two or three more.
“Someone might be doing well on not using drugs, and then they’ll fall off the wagon and go on a bit of a spree to get enough money to keep their high going.”
In 13 years with the RCMP, Larson has seen the level of violence escalate as dealers attempt to settle scores with drug associates who have fallen behind on their debts.
However, he does not believe organized crime plays much of a role in Red Deer. Most of the action here involves smaller groups of people acting independently, says Larson.
Carl, a heroin addict and former gang member, attributes the low level of gang violence to the huge amount of money that is available in Red Deer.
There is no need to protect a good corner in a city like Red Deer, because all corners are good corners when there’s lots of money around, says Carl.
If the money were to disappear, then the level of gang violence would likely increase as different gangs become protective of their corners, he says.
The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre works closely with police on crime prevention, seeking out the roots of drug addiction and trying to address those factors, says executive director TerryLee Ropchan.
“The people that are accessing the centre are typically coming to us because something has happened in their neighbourhood or to them. They’re kind of coming to us as the victims of things that are going on,” says Ropchan, whose own home was broken into a number of years ago.
She encourages people to report every crime, no matter how small, to help police pinpoint areas of concern.
For example, if there is a crackhouse in the neighbourhood, it will likely be at the centre of an area where people are seeing an increase in crimes such as break-ins and thefts. Putting a dot on each report can help lead police to the heart of the problem, says Ropchan.
“From our perspective, yes, these things are happening in our neighbourhood, so we need people to be really diligent in reporting them.”
Reporting a failed break-in is not going to trigger a police investigation, but it will show up on the map and help lead police to a trouble spot, she says.
“It gives them a much clearer picture of what’s going on in the neighbourhood. It kind of allows them to do those patrols and all of that.”
Mike Letourneau, acting inspector in charge of Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN), says his organization, operated under the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team, uses civil law to shut down drug houses, such as a house that was shut down in the Red Deer subdivision of Inglewood.
SCAN investigators will begin by warning the property owner that drug activity has been discovered in the house, giving the owner an opportunity to take action. In the case of the Inglewood home, the owner was part of the problem, says Letourneau.
In many cases, however, the property has been rented out and a contact from SCAN may be the owner’s first indication of drug activity at the site, he says.
If the owner is unwilling or unsuccessful in curtailing the activity, SCAN has the authority to remove all occupants from the residence and have the house fenced off and boarded up for a period of time.
The Inglewood home was closed down for a number of months and has since been sold, says Letourneau.