Property Crime on the Rise

People with drug addictions often resort to stealing property in order to fuel their habits. But the commander of ALERT’s organized crime team in Medicine Hat says they are more brazen in their thefts than ever before.

Staff Sgt. Kelsey Fraser has been a police officer for 22 years. He said that there is an “undeniable correlation” between the rise in drug issues in Medicine Hat and the “exponential” rise in property crimes.

Stolen property recovered by ALERT Medicine Hat during an investigation that concluded in December 2019.

“We have open-air shoplifting now, where people don’t even try to mask it,” Fraser said. “These people are known drug users in our city. It has almost become a common behaviour now, to see these drug users and people in that subculture at stores, walking in and walking out with a cart full of goods. It seems that the culture and the conscience of people have changed to fuel their habits. They just don’t care.”

Sometimes, people with addictions will steal property and sell it for cash to buy drugs. But Fraser says what’s becoming more common is for drug dealers to send people with addictions out with a list of goods to steal.

“Some of those goods have become commodities; they’re better than cash to some people that are waiting for them,” he said.

“We’ve actually seized physical shopping lists from people that were caught doing a bunch of thefts. And they’ve said in the interviews, ‘Yeah, if I get all these things rounded up and give to this dealer, then I’m gonna get my two ounces of coke or meth.’ So we have people going out with shopping lists of things to steal in order to use it as a commodity to get their drugs.”

Having headed up the Medicine Hat Police Service’s Priority Crimes Team before joining the ALERT organized crime team, Fraser said he has seen all sorts of items stolen: food, electronics, clothes, even electric toothbrushes. “Anything that’s not locked down can get stolen. Honestly, if it’s not bolted down and they want it, it will go.”

And with larger organized crime groups getting in on the action, the scale of goods being stolen is ramping up as well.

“We’ve had files over the years, and even recently, where it’s not just theft from stores or small-time break-ins — it’s skid steers and vehicles being stolen and moved to different parts of the province,” Fraser said. “It’s any level of commodity, from shoplifting at Walmart to stealing a $70,000 truck attached to a Bobcat on a trailer.”

Dealers might keep the stolen property they receive, or they might try to sell it on social media platforms or to pawn shops. But Fraser says the second-hand shops in Medicine Hat have become much more proactive in recent years.

“Anything that’s not locked down can get stolen. Honestly, if it’s not bolted down and they want it, it will go.”

—Staff Sgt. Kelsey Fraser, ALERT Medicine Hat

“Ten years ago, we weren’t organized with local pawn shops in combating the resale of stolen goods. But since that time, we’ve become a coalition of sorts with our pawn shops and taken an organized approach to preventing and curbing the resale of stolen goods through pawn shops,” he said. “If we deem something stolen and they paid out on it, we take the property back. They don’t want to incur those losses either.”

And police have tried to reciprocate: “We could tell them that we just had a whole bunch of drills stolen; if you see one, be wary who you’re taking it from. It’s proactive communication to them,” Fraser said.

Meanwhile, Fraser said he has seen a concerted effort from community members to curb property theft. One of the most effective tools is the MHPS smartphone app, through which the service receives many tips every day.

“The good thing is that our community isn’t getting in the way or putting themselves in harm’s way trying to intervene,” Fraser said. “They’re keeping themselves safe, but they’re not just sitting on the information; they’re sharing it.”

As for how people can avoid having their property stolen, Fraser says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“My personal advice has always been: If you don’t want to lose it, don’t leave it out,” he said. “That’s a really easy rule. I’m still amazed when I read files where people have their wallets or purses or electronics stolen from trucks that are unlocked. If you value it, so does somebody else who can’t afford to buy it, and they’re going to take it if given the opportunity.”