Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2008
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Elise Stolte


Officers won't try to make arrests but will use courts to shut down
illicit operations

A new unit of Alberta sheriffs will target drug houses across the
province starting today.

But the 14-member team won't try to arrest drug dealers, Solicitor
General Fred Lindsay said Tuesday in the Alberta Avenue

Instead, investigators will focus on stopping the activity, either
through informal agreements with landowners or with 90-day court
orders to shut down the properties.

Christy Morin lived beside a mice-infested meth house for two and a
half years. She and her husband could look out their bedroom window
and watch the residents cooking crystal meth in their kitchen.

People were knocking on the door from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., sometimes
screaming as they fought, or jumping from the roof onto a pile of
mattresses on the sagging deck.

She phoned the landlord nearly every day for two years to complain --
she still has the phone number memorized. "It was a continual battle,"
she said.

Finally, she got in touch with the Edmonton police one-man derelict
housing unit who worked with bylaw officials, Capital Health and local
utility companies to shut it down.

"It worked for us but it was a long haul. That's the problem," she
said, after watching the solicitor general make the announcement. "It
would be great to have something that has some muscle."

Acting Det. Chris Hayduk of the former derelict housing unit, said the
new legislation should make shutting down properties much easier. "I'm
excited to see what they bring to the table."

The new legislation, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, is
effective today. Anyone can register a complaint and is promised
confidentiality. Sheriffs complete their investigations from outside
the building and therefore don't need warrants.

They use civil law rather than criminal law, thus only need to prove
an offense on the balance of probabilities. Criminal law requires the
proof to be beyond reasonable doubt.

Once an investigation is complete and they can prove that harmful
activities have taken place, they approach the landlords and try to
resolve issues informally. If that doesn't work, they'll present a
written report to a judge for a community safety order, which can
force tenants to vacate the property and/or shut it down for 90 days.

The province will pay for fences, locks or security up front, then
bill the landlord later. The landlord has 14 days to appeal.

The sheriffs will work with social services to find new places for
those evicted to live, especially if grandparents or children are put
at risk. "We're not going to put them on the street," Lindsay said.

Under the act, the sheriffs will also target houses or businesses
being used by gangs or for prostitution, or anything that effects the
health and security of the surrounding community. Derelict or
fortified houses are also included because of the risks to neighbours
and rescue workers during a fire.

The act is designed to be more efficient than current methods, said
Edmonton police Chief Mike Boyd, describing problem houses and
businesses as "crime magnets" for break-ins, vehicle theft and vandalism.

"We need to do something," he said. The department "has not had the
resources to do that."

Many of the new sheriffs are former police officers. Others were moved
from other sheriff roles and have a minimum six years' experience.
They have seven weeks of intensive training about how to apply the

Paul Hennig, a former Edmonton homicide detective, heard about the
opportunity and was hired within a week.

"It was an easy fit," he said.

With the gang unit, he once got a search warrant for a house in the
northwest Lago Lindo neighbourhood and arrested several people for
cocaine trafficking.

Officers went back to the same house less than a year later. "Same
people," he said, again for cocaine trafficking and this time for a
firearm as well. Police arrested them and they were back on the
streets the same day. The neighbourhood was no better off. "They never
left the house," Hennig said. "It certainly brought people in that
neighbourhood that were active in crime."

The provincial sheriffs already handle security in provincial
courthouses, hunt down people with outstanding warrants and patrol
provincial highways, although officers must call in RCMP to take over
if they find an impaired driver. They do surveillance for police and
help guard the perimeter of crime scenes while detectives investigate.
Lindsay said the province is in talks with RCMP to see if sheriffs can
also help investigate vehicle collisions.

A new provincial police force has long been a contentious political
argument in Alberta but Lindsay denies an expanding role for the
sheriffs is a step in that direction.

"We've heard from Chief Mike Boyd about not having the resources to do
this kind of work, and realistically it's work that can be done by
peace officers rather than police officers," he said.

"The province of Alberta has no plans whatsoever to form a provincial
police force."
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