LETHBRIDGE – If you drive by 1813 7 Ave N over the next little while, you’ll see a fenced off house and notices pinned to the fence.
Those notices are a court order obtained by the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit giving investigators authority to close the property at that location for 90 days.
SCAN Insp. Mike Letourneau says in May of 2018 they started to receive drug complaints about this property from people in the neighbourhood.
“It was an extensive volume of people attending this property at all hours during the day and night. Four very fearful and very frustrated complainants contacted the SCAN unit to see if we could conduct an investigation. Immediately we collaborated with the Lethbridge Police Service, and they’ve been absolutely instrumental in making this happen here today.”
On top of fencing off the house, the property is being boarded up, the locks are being changed, and the owners and any occupants are required to leave the property for the 90-day period which will remain in effect until Jan. 8, 2019.
“The situation with this property is there are three property owners. About a year ago, there was a husband and wife living in this property and the wife left the husband. Things went right off the rails, as the ex-husband remained in this property and the drug activity was horrendous here,” Letourneau stated.
“SCAN came out and did surveillance on this property for a few days and we saw in excess of 40 people in and out and about 15 to 16 drug transactions,” he continued. "There was enough to confirm there was most certainly drug activity occurring at the property, so we applied for a warning letter from our director of law enforcement.”
The warning letter was then served to the owner of the property, but according to Letourneau the activity around the place actually picked up.
“Community members stayed on it, kept reporting and the Lethbridge Police Service finally conducted a drug search warrant on this property on June 29th and they found methamphetamine, carfentanil, and stolen property.”
Two people ended up being charged by LPS with four Criminal Code charges as a result.
That gave investigators enough evidence to go forward and take an application for a community safety order in Queen’s Bench court, and on Sept. 25, 2018, they did just that and were successful.
“At the end of 90 days, the ex-husband I keep referring to will be able to come back to this property as an owner. However, in this situation, because it’s under a 90-day closure, we’ve also been working in parallel investigations with CIBC and there’s a strong opinion that this property will be taken under a foreclosure,” Letourneau said, adding he doesn’t expect the homeowner to ever set foot on this property again.
Letourneau picked out the community, local police, and his SCAN team as those who deserve credit for this happening.
“They [the community] stepped up and came forward. Within our SCAN legislation community members call our investigators and speak directly to an investigator. That information doesn’t get shared with anybody, so their information is 100% protected and that’s important to note.”
Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, says this is yet another example of the important role SCAN investigators play in keeping Alberta neighbourhoods safe and secure.
“I want to thank SCAN investigators for their diligent efforts to address criminal activity across our province.”
Since March, Lethbridge police have been to the property 12 times for various reasons and ongoing criminal activity at the home created an unsafe environment for residents of the community.
Acting Staff Sgt. Mark Smallbones says on top of the search warrant they conducted back in June for this house, they carried them out for two other houses in the neighbourhood as well.
“We haven’t had any more reports from the other two houses, this is the only house that the activity continued in. This is the house that we continued to monitor and report to scan.”
With complaints from those houses no longer coming in, and the shutdown of this property, Smallbones hopes this will deal with the issues in the area.
“That was our intention with getting the Priority Crimes Unit involved. Just noticing some of the car prowlings and property crime that was happening around here and linking it to these houses. We’re hoping that it’ll help bring down some of the property crime issues and traffic issues as well,” Smallbones said.
Police did an annual report with auto theft and found this avenue had an extremely high rate of recovery of stolen vehicles as well as vehicles being stolen in 2017.
“So, part of our project was to curb some of those numbers in 2018, and hopefully with the closure of these houses we’ll see a change in that behaviour.”
The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act gives sheriffs the option of targeting problem properties through civil enforcement.
Since its inception in 2008, Alberta’s SCAN unit has investigated more than 4,700 problem properties across the province and has issued 72 Community Safety Orders.
The majority of complaints are resolved informally, with no need for legal action, by working with property owners to address issues.
Smallbones wanted to give credit to the community for the vigilance they showed through the months as well.
“The neighbourhood has been outstanding in not only keeping SCAN apprised of situations but also our guys on the priority crimes unit,” he continued. “Also, the patrol officers, you’ve gotta put the kudos out to them, the beat officers in this area have been very good at notifying us so we can keep SCAN up to date and work jointly with our community partners to bring this to a conclusion.”
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