By Trevor Busch
Examining trends in recent criminal activity in the community, Chief Graham Abela has drawn a direct link between property crimes and the increasing prevalence of crystal methamphetamine on Taber streets.
“Last night we had someone car prowling again. What I mean by that is they’re checking doors, and when the doors are open they (enter),” said Chief Graham Abela at the Taber Municipal Police Commission’s Nov. 20 meeting. “This was 5:30 in the morning, we had a fellow out shoveling the snow off his sidewalk and he was able to interact with the individual that was committing mischief and committing thefts to motor vehicles. And although we’re still hot on the trail as of this afternoon, we’re pretty sure we know who did it. That interaction definitely prevented further entries this morning, so we’re happy about that. We were able to recover some property and return it to some homeowners this morning, This car prowling and the numbers that we’re having is definitely related to crystal methamphetamine usage. There’s no doubt about it.”
As of October 2019, the community has seen 19 trafficking offences, for a 111 per cent increase over 2018 year to date. Possession offences have declined by 57 per cent (20), but Abela suggested in his report this is largely due to the elimination of cannabis infractions from the Criminal Code. The drug enforcement statistical category of “other” has also seen a 50 per cent (7) decline over 2018 figures.
“Your analysis you had with regard to trends, saying that this was expected, and that the criminal activity around meth use is similar to what southern Alberta is experiencing,” said Chair Ken Holst. “Would it be fair, though, that that trend is all the same, but some communities are experiencing it still much worse than we are? Or is it really consistent across? I’ve just seen some reports coming out of Lethbridge and some of the things they’re dealing with, and how they’ve nationally moved up the ladder with regards to criminal activity.”
Abela believes activities associated with Lethbridge’s safe consumption site has had a regional influence on safety in surrounding communities.
“The use of crystal methamphetamine within the safe consumption site in the city of Lethbridge has definitely impacted — in my view — safety, and we are seeing some of the ripple effects of that in our community. Crystal methamphetamine use, it’s a low-cost drug that gives you a high for a long period of time, and it’s become the drug of choice. Opiate addiction, what the safe consumption site was built for, has transformed somewhat towards the use of crystal methamphetamine, and that’s important. The treatments are not the same with regard to the wrap-around services that are required to treat methamphetamine addiction versus opiate addiction.”
While emphasis among the public is often more heavily weighted in the direction of enforcement to deal with drug-related problems in a community, Abela acknowledged that treatment needs to be an integral component and the province is stepping up in this regard.
“I spoke at the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police meeting, the conference was on mental health. I opened up as a keynote at that meeting to address the conference, and one of the things I spoke about was the increased number of beds that the government is possibly implementing — budget depending — over the next couple of years. We’re going from 1,000 treatment beds to 4,000 treatment beds. From my perspective — the harm reduction perspective — I think having more access to treatment will be beneficial, not only for opiates, but for crystal methamphetamine. It’s a good move.”
Coun. Jack Brewin, who serves as one of two town council representatives on the commission, highlighted some of the numbers associated with property crimes in the community.
“I think you can look at the statistics here, the crimes against property, to see how much it has gone up. That tells you a lot when people are trying to steal for drugs.”
Again, as of October 2019, Taber has seen 204 incidences of theft under $5,000, up 45 per cent over October 2018 year to date. Thefts over $5,000 (29) are also on rise, up 26 per cent. Possession of stolen goods (25) has risen by 47 per cent, break and enter (33) by 50 per cent, and mischief by eight per cent. By far the largest increase has been in the area of fraud, however, up 82 per cent (60).
Coun. Joe Strojwas has heard reports from local citizens who are hesitant to frequent malls in Lethbridge during the holiday season due to issues involving car prowling.
“I’ve had a number of people associated (with) Lethbridge, and apparently this is rampant in the malls. People are being accosted in the vehicles in the malls, going Christmas shopping and coming back from Christmas shopping. It’s getting to be a real problem, and there’s people saying they don’t want to go to the malls now because of what’s going on.”
Holst asked what kind of role the police commission might be able to play with regard to car prowling issues in the community, suggesting potential for information sessions, an idea for a social media contest involving security camera give-aways, or involvement by the Taber Action and Prevention Society (TCAPS).
“It’s community policing, and it takes a community to deal with these issues,” said Abela. “These issues, on the severity of crime, they’re not complex but they’re frequent so they enter our radar quite often. So any time that we can reduce the mischiefs and thefts from motor vehicles, teach people to be proactive and not become a victim of crime, I think it’s an important thing that we should all try as a community to do.”
Abela went on to illustrate an innovative initiative being examined to gather information on criminal activity in the community.
“Right now, I have an officer looking at a community camera registry, so that everyone that currently has a camera can, by consent, register with us at the police department, so that we know when we have a crime in their neighbourhood and a person went a certain way, we’ll be able to call that person up and ask them to access their cameras to see if they can provide any evidence for us as to who, what, when, where, and how it went down.”
Comm. John MacDonald asked if the majority of the crimes being witnessed by police are “easy grabs” or crimes of opportunity, or if break and enters have also seen a corresponding rise.
“We’re very lucky — touch wood — that we do not get the residential break and enters that other communities get. Taber is a very safe place,” said Abela. “We have a great community, low violence, but where there is some impacts that we can have on criminality, it’s around things like that (car prowling, petty theft). I very rarely see windows smashed in order to grab something out of a vehicle. Most of these crimes are crimes of opportunity.”