By Lethbridge Herald on November 24, 2023.
LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
The recent announcement of a Lethbridge-based unit of the Safer Community and Neighbourhoods unit of the Alberta Sheriffs is huge for this city.
And no, this isn’t an effort to create a provincial police force as I’ve heard from several residents who automatically dismiss everything the UCP government does as negative.
And while this government does sometimes give us reason to raise our eyebrows, SCAN is not one of them.
The arrival of SCAN is important for fighting crime in southern Alberta. Its staff are being deployed here to address certain types of crime which have infiltrated neighbourhoods in Lethbridge and other communities.
Much – if not most – of SCAN’s focus is drug-related crime. People using residences to conduct their drug-trafficking business, in theory out of the sight of law enforcement. But residents who live near these homes know exactly what is going.
People coming to and leaving homes on foot or bicycles or by vehicle at all hours of day and night, vehicles parking down the street with people quickly going to a home and then leaving within minutes.
These are just a few of the signs that drug trafficking is going on. Using electrical boxes as drop-off locations is another one as we witnessed often on our own block.
Another sign are taxi cabs which drop off customers a block from a home and either leave or wait for their return.
(The Lutheran Church parking lot on Rocky Mountain Boulevard was a popular place for visitors to the neighbourhood drug place to park in the dark for their frequent visits.) That parking lot was also a spot where a stolen truck was recovered after eagle-eyed residents heard and saw it idling in the dark of night after cruising around the area for a couple of days
Vehicles idling in alleyways for no apparent reason, drug use in or near homes, a constant parade of people carrying backpacks to and from residences, whether on foot or riding bicycles, are all signs of a home where drug activity is taking place.
Trust me, I know. Our neighbourhood for several years was absolutely beseiged because of the activities at a four-plex and to a lesser extent a couple of nearby properties.
At one point, the four-plex even had a sign in the window for what turned out to be a prostitution website. And from my contacts, I learned a couple of pimps were regularly utilizing the place. That confirmed what some of us thought when we would notice women changing clothes in vehicles beside the mailbox by Probe School at all hours of day and night, even during school hours.
For a few months, a U-Haul truck was regularly parked in the alley, coming and going at different times of day with people under the cloak of darkness carrying items to and from it to one or both units on one side of the home.
Earlier this year, another U-Haul began appearing along with a distinctive white SUV, which I’ve also seen downtown occasionally.
It became clear earlier this year to our dismay that another nearby rental unit was connected to this particular address.
For several years we endured car prowlings, people using drugs and dealing drugs by our fences – I even had a security camera ripped off my driveway fence (a really stupid place to put it), the last image on it being a masked person making a gesture which the next night was done to my face by an individual at the back of that four-plex as a group partied there.
I even watched on one occasion a person on a bicycle come out of the alley from that unit and check my truck passenger door before disappearing into the backyard of another residence down the street.
With a fresh evening snowfall, I tracked wearing a robe and running shoes the tire treads to confirm what I saw on a sleepless night.
We lived through a nightmare. Everyone was on edge in the area which includes a mix of seniors and families with young childrens. Two people told me when I noticed they had put their homes for sale that the drug activity was the reason they were leaving.
This is a neighbourhood with an elementary school where many have lived for decades. It’s a neighbourhood where everyone is welcomed with open arms, where even the newest arrivals are soon chatting and socializing with long-time residents. It’s a neighbourhood where everyone watches out for each other and cares about each other.
And we all were getting fed up. The drug activity was so obvious even people who had lived on the block for just a couple of weeks figured out what was going on.
And despite occasional evictions, the activity didn’t stop – it actually intensified and it became obvious all four units of this one particular residence were involved.
SCAN is the reason it ended. Multiple people contacted SCAN by phone or on its website and for years we fought to take our block back.
And finally this spring after a lengthy investigation, suddenly all four tenants plus those of a rental property half a block away were being evicted.
Piles of belongings were left out front and in the alley for someone else to deal with by the departing residents, which had some worried about the potential for fire or problems with vermin.
It was unbelievable how much junk was left behind.
I’ve since heard – again through sources – that the property was one of the worst a health inspector had ever seen. No surprise there.
But since spring, despite some lingering concerns about one home, our neighbourhood has changed.
It’s back to normal thanks to the dedicated efforts of SCAN and our own Lethbridge Police Service who regularly visited the four-plex.
As I know from covering drug house closures, investigations into such matters are lengthy because police need to make sure they have just cause to apply for a court order to shut down a home.
SCAN did an amazing job on our block and for the first time in years we can breathe easy for the most part.
After the years of worrying and watching, I’m sure we’ll all continue to be on guard for quite some time because it always seemed just when there was light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel was blocked and we ended up enduring more of the same.
The investigators of SCAN in conjunction with LPS are the proverbial heroes who don’t wear capes.
They took action and for now at least we can look at the footage from our security cameras – mine now out of sight and reach – and spot mostly deer, cats and skunks wandering in the dark, not bicycle people with backpacks scurrying along like mice under the cloak of darkness.
We aren’t seeing the prostitutes – regularly at least – or anyone clearly under the influence of drugs slouched along our fence lines or in our driveways.
We are free. And it’s thanks to SCAN and the LPS.
We need this SCAN unit here and we are fortunate to have it. Very fortunate.
SCAN, however, can’t do its job alone – it needs residents to become involved in taking their neighbourhoods back. Complaints to SCAN are anonymous so there is no need to fear repercussions for reporting suspicious properties.
If you have any concerns about a home on your block, talk to your neighbours and begin keeping track of the activity going on there -mits types, the times, the amounts. If you see the same vehicles regularly showing up and leaving quickly, try to get a licence plate. If you see the same people quickly coming and going, get a description.
If you notice taxi cabs dropping people off at different times of day and night, take note of the occupants lest they be involved in the sex trade.
Have as much information available as you can so SCAN can make a determination if this is a matter that needs to be investigated. We can all do our part to stop the crime in our communities and if we want it to stop, we have to get involved.