Floods, gangs and pot: Calgary police chief reflects on 2013

CBC Calgary anchor Rob Brown recently sat down with Chief Rick Hanson to talk about about some of the highlights and lessons learned in 2013.

Rick Hanson says he has never smoked marijuana, but a better plan is needed if legalization is considered

Calgary's police chief breaks down the last year of dealing with floods, gangs and other issues. 8:01

It was a big year for Calgary's Chief of Police Rick Hanson.

The city's crime rate continued to drop — so much that it is no longer the top issue for Calgarians, according to a recent survey.

Hanson's contract was also renewed for another five years in October.

CBC Calgary anchor Rob Brown recently sat down with the chief to talk about about some of the highlights of the year.

Hanson says the biggest lesson learned in 2013 was how to respond better to natural disasters. He said the floods that brought widespread damage to Calgary in June were a defining moment for the city.

"There has to be trust in the police and the community to evacuate almost 100,000 people in such a short time."

He said the floods showed officials where the weaknesses were in emergency protocols and how to improve them in the future.

"As the event escalated, we realized the incident command model that's taught nationally is inadequate for an event of this magnitude and so we had to adapt on the fly," he said.

"So we learned a ton. We are applying it in the development of policy and training, and even with technology."

For example, he said the decision was made that officers out on the street need smartphones so they can send and receive information immediately.

Debate over legalizing pot

Justin Trudeau's admission that he smoked pot while sitting as an MP and his plans to legalize the drug if the Liberals form a government also brought the topic of marijuana to the forefront for many policing bodies.

Hanson says while he has never smoked marijuana, he feels a better plan is needed before legalization is even considered.

"We are heading down that path ... so let's do it properly," he said.

He said THC — the mind-altering ingredient found in the Cannabis plant — has been shown to have damaging effects, like early onset of mental illness in some people.

But he said there is not enough information available on how legalizing the drug would affect the health-care system or how officials would teach children to stay away from it.

"Let's make sure we are prepared and get away from the argument of 'I've been smoking it since I was 16 and it never did anything to me,'" Hanson said.

Another big topic this year was the war on gangs being waged by Calgary police.

Authorities charged five men in 2013 after an intensive police operation dubbed Desino by investigators.

The men were known to have ties to organized crime. They face charges in connection with six murders, including a triple murder at the Bolsa restaurant in southeast Calgary on New Year's Day, 2009.

Hanson says he wants Calgarians to know they are never going to quit fighting gang violence.

"The message we sent, because the gang violence that was so evident in this city up until about five to six years ago, is that we are not going to quit pursuing [it]," he said.

Hanson said he also wants officers to have the power to collect DNA samples at the same time they take fingerprints upon arrest.