It's been in Lethbridge for less than a year, but already the province's specialized organized crime police unit is making headway in southern Alberta and it needs more government funding to keep growing, according to the agency's CEO.
Supt. Ted Miles, CEO of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) - a partnership of RCMP and municipal police forces across the province - said it's important for governments to keep funding this kind of "integrated policing," which he believes could be the future for policing in Canada.
In a presentation to the Lethbridge Regional Police Commission last week, Miles highlighted the successes of ALERT as a way for police to investigate beyond jurisdictional borders.
The specialized unit, targeting drug trafficking, gangs and other serious and organized crime, launched in Lethbridge in April 2012. The local team now has 23 members from the Lethbridge regional police and RCMP, and it has made several recent drug busts in the region. ALERT also has units in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Camrose and Red Deer.
Since 2006, ALERT has arrested nearly 5,000 people, laid almost 14,000 charges and seized more than 400 firearms, according to the agency's statistics. From 2011 to 2012, ALERT laid 1,796 charges against 610 people, seized more than $3.5 million in proceeds of crime and seized more than $108.5 million worth of drugs, including 140,000 marijuana plants from illegal grow operations across Alberta.
"It's only early in the game and we're only getting the momentum going now, but I'm seeing tremendous successes from the Lethbridge team as we have seen where ever else we've set up around the province and I truly believe it's having an impact on communities, making them a safer place for citizens to reside," Miles said, making no mention of a botched July 2012 ALERT investigation that seized more than 1,600 daisy plants from a Lethbridge man's backyard because officers believed they were marijuana. Trafficking and producing charges against the man were later dropped, and he received a $2,300 fine for possessing 697 grams of marijuana, not the $800,000 worth of marijuana plants police first accused him of growing.
ALERT has an annual operating budget of $55 million, most of which - $39 million -comes from the Alberta government, while the federal government provides $10 million and municipal police forces provide personnel. Supt. Miles said the agency operates under budget, at around $49 million.
"We don't have sufficient funding to cover off everything that we build into our budget, so we run about a 10 or 11 per cent vacancy rate in order to meet budget currently," he said.
ALERT is in the last year of its funding contract with the provincial government and Miles said he hopes that funding will increase.
"I think integrated policing is a model for the future of policing. The economics of policing are such that we have to find ways of being more effective and efficient in the way we deliver policing services and I think working in an integrated model is one of those ways," he said.
"It's proven itself to be a cost-effective and very efficient and effective model in targetting organized crime around Alberta. It's important that we continue to work closely with all of the partner agencies, sharing information and intelligence and working with them, and the ALERT integrated policing model provides that environment for them to just do that."