A little bit of perseverance paid off in a big way for ALERT’s organized crime and gang team in Red Deer.
In July 2018, ALERT announced the results of Project Rails, a year-long investigation into suspected drug trafficking activity in Central Alberta. More than $250,000 of drugs and cash were seized along with five firearms from homes in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake, making this one of the largest files the Red Deer ALERT team has ever handled. Two people were arrested and charged with a total of 57 criminal offences.
“Red Deer’s kind of unique, because a lot of the groups working here, trafficking drugs here, they don’t typically sit on a lot of product. We’re so close to Edmonton and Calgary, which are major centres for drug distribution,” said Cpl. Mike Purse, who was part of the team working the case. “A lot of the groups we target here, they’re not sitting on large amounts. So the amount of cash and drugs and guns we seized [as part of Rails] is significant for Red Deer, especially. You don’t typically see that much cash around here. You don’t typically seize large amounts of drugs in Red Deer all the time.”
With the one case occupying most of the team’s time for an entire year, there were some challenges around staying focused on the tasks at hand. But Purse and his team were able to keep those challenges to a minimum.
“We were lucky with Rails because the techniques we were using allowed us to really control the investigation,” he said. “There weren’t hundreds of hours of surveillance put into it or things like that; those are the ones where the attention can wander. During this time, we had other investigations come along that we were able to do at the same time, because we did have that level of control over the direction of Project Rails.”
The Red Deer team was also able to call on other police agencies for assistance thanks to ALERT’s integrated policing model. “We’re kind of unique here, because we don’t have the same level of integration as somewhere like Edmonton ALERT does, where they have two different police agencies – sometimes three – working together,” Purse said. “For us, we’re all Mounties here. But with the ALERT model, I can pick up my phone and, in seconds, have a contact in Edmonton or Calgary, or within the Alberta Sheriffs, or wherever we need help.
“There’s constant crossover on our files with Calgary and Edmonton; I think we have yet to work on a file where the target, or someone associated to the target, hasn’t gone to the city. When we see that happening, we have an hour to get to Calgary or an hour to get to Edmonton, and we can easily pick up the phone and have resources from the city willing and able to assist us, just like that.”
While it was important to get the drugs off the streets of Red Deer through Project Rails, perhaps the bigger impact came with the seizure of five firearms, including two handguns, two shotguns and an SKS rifle with a high-capacity drum magazine.
“When I started [in police work] 18 years ago, it was more of a rarity to see a firearm during a drug investigation,” Purse said. “Unfortunately, now it’s very common; it’s almost the norm. You expect it now.”
Those firearms, and the drug traffickers who carry them, have the potential to seriously threaten the safety of communities across Alberta. Therefore, investigators are keen to corral those traffickers before they can truly establish themselves and situations have the chance to escalate.
“If these groups are allowed to proliferate here, to stay and operate and grow in Red Deer, then the competition starts. That’s when you start to see violence between different drug trafficking groups, when they start to step on each other’s toes and take away business from one another,” Purse said. “If we’re able to catch them, stop them, as they’re growing and getting established, I think it prevents some of that inter-group violence.”