When it comes to ALERT, Insp. Jason Walper has seen both sides of the coin. And each side shines as bright as the other.
Over his policing career, Walper has served two stints with the ALERT organized crime team based in Lethbridge: first as an investigator from April 2012 to October 2013, then as team commander from January 2017 to October 2018. Now heading up the Criminal Investigation Division with the Lethbridge Police Service, Walper has seen first-hand what local police officers can bring to the ALERT table, as well as what they take away from it.
“ALERT has done a fantastic job of taking members from municipal agencies and bringing them together, and providing them extra skills, which is great for smaller municipal services,” he said. “And then we put that into practice on the operational side, where you get to be part of much larger-scale investigations.”
Recently, several officers from smaller police services — including Taber, Camrose, Lacombe, Blood Tribe and Tsuut’ina Nation — have linked up with ALERT teams in larger urban centres.
Insp. Sean Boser, ALERT’s officer in charge of regional teams, says integrating members into one cohesive team is the “backbone” of ALERT’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle organized crime, and these new members have brought a lot to the table.
“If you have embedded local knowledge, that just enhances our knowledge of who our stakeholders are and maintaining those relationships. There’s also knowledge of the local subculture, familiarity with the criminal element we’re dealing with in those regions,” Boser said.
Lacombe Police Service Chief Lorne Blumhagen agrees that local police officers have a wealth of knowledge they can bring to an integrated unit like ALERT. A Lacombe officer joined the ALERT organized crime team in Red Deer for the first time in April 2020.
“We’re connected to the community and we know, for example, that targets could be operating in multiple communities, just through our own investigations and many of our individuals of interest operate in a wide geographical area,” Blumhagen said. “We’re able to connect the dots and bring that knowledge to ALERT, and benefit the team and its operations.”
Determining exactly which of their members will join ALERT teams is usually an internal process for each police agency, Boser said, although with RCMP members, he does receive resumes directly and makes selections in consultation with RCMP Staffing.
One valuable perspective that has been added is that of First Nations policing. Two members of the Blood Tribe Police Service recently joined the ALERT team in Lethbridge, while the Calgary team now includes a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service.
“Regrettably, it is becoming increasingly clear that no community in Alberta is immune to the impacts of organized crime. If you have roadways or internet access in your community, you could be at risk. With this in mind, the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service is proud to be a new member of the ALERT Team,” said TNPS Chief Keith Blake. “One of our officers will now be integrated into a unified enforcement team that will continue to detect and suppress organized crime. The investigative skills and professional development our officers will bring back to our police service and community will be immeasurable.”
“There’s a different perspective that I think members from a First Nations police service bring to the table, and there’s significant value to that,” Boser added. “There’s an opportunity to leverage their skill sets and to help gain trust and insight into happenings within First Nations communities.”
But, as much as ALERT benefits from members’ knowledge, the members learn many new skills with ALERT that they can take back to their home agencies to use in future investigations and pass on to their colleagues — skills such as major case management, source handling, investigative techniques, and intelligence gathering.
“That’s been very evident in the past nine months with the creation of the LPS Crime Suppression Team,” Walper said. “A majority of those members have previous ALERT experience, and what they bring to the table in dealing with negative behaviours within the city of Lethbridge — drug abuse, drug trafficking and general crime — they’re able to target that quickly. We’ve had great success with that. They’ve truly shown first-hand what these officers can do.”
As members gain experience with ALERT, Blumhagen hopes they’ll return to Lacombe with skills to propel themselves into leadership positions, to mentor younger colleagues, and even to be a resource for supervisors to lean on.
“It creates momentum for the service; it creates opportunities. It motivates members right from the ground up,” he said.
Seeing those members go back to their home agencies and climb the ranks is something Boser says is a benefit to ALERT’s partnerships.
“It’s something that ALERT can be proud of, because these members have taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been given to them. They take that skill set back to their home agency, and can make their home agency better,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment for ALERT, and for the members too, because they were willing to learn and take new knowledge on board. ALERT has an excellent brand in Alberta; a lot of members want to come to ALERT.”
But, for Walper, the opportunity to advance his career wasn’t the biggest takeaway.
“I’ve been fortunate to be part of ALERT; I’ve learned a lot and had opportunities to do great things within the ALERT team, opportunities I might not have had if I chose to stay with LPS, because of the integration and working with agencies across the province,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people, made a lot of great friendships. It expands your family of policing from local to provincial. It’s great to see it continuing and being so successful.”