Edmonton

Parkland County pulls funding for drug unit officer

A crime watch association in rural Alberta says its members are frustrated and worried crime is about to go up in Parkland County.

'It does make it difficult to do an effective job'

Insp. Mike Lokken stands behind a table full of guns and ammo that were seized from a Val Quentin residence and a Parkland County storage locker in 2018. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

A crime watch association in rural Alberta says its members are frustrated and worried crime is about to increase in Parkland County. 

The county, west of Edmonton, will no longer fund one of four Parkland RCMP Drug Unit positions, RCMP Insp. Mike Lokken said Tuesday.

It does make it difficult to do an effective job.- Insp. Mike Lokken, Parkland County RCMP

Each position is funded by a different government body, but the one position funded completely by the county will be cut on July 31, said Lokken, who is with the Parkland County detachment.

It isn't just a huge loss for the drug unit, but it's a loss the community is going to feel going forward, Lokken said.

"When you're moving backwards rather than forwards with resource expansion and growing population, sometimes growing drug problems, it does make it challenging," Lokken said.

He said word came down about the changes nearly a year ago, and they've been working to make adjustments ever since. 

Parkland County council directed administration to find savings across the organization, resulting in cuts to some RCMP initiatives including the drug unit, according to an emailed statement from the county. 

"With ongoing provincial downloading of services and costs impacting municipalities, along with the tax impacts from the transition away from coal, the county no longer has the capacity to sustain funding to programs as was previously done," reads Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec's statement.

'We're left wondering why'

Patti Eatock, a member of the Stony Plain and District Crime Prevention Association, said this is a frustrating reality that her association isn't willing to accept without an explanation.

Speaking on behalf of the association, Eatock said the county has not responded to the association's letters asking for answers.

"Right now we're left wondering why and not having any clear information back from the county as to why this happened," she said.

"There has been a concern regarding how quickly the RCMP can actually get out to our rural area and now they've now reduced the RCMP that were actually doing that."

Lokken wants to let the community know his intention is to keep the drug unit above water, even if it's going to look a little different with three officers.

"It's not that we don't care, it's just that simply we're drinking from a fire hose and we have to triage and manage our case loads," he said.

He said over the years, the drug unit has made its mark on the community.

From January 2017 to December 2018, the drug section was involved in 82 investigations that seized more than 2.1 kg of cocaine, 2.5 kg of meth and 320 grams of fentanyl.

The unit has laid more than 600 charges over the last two years.

Lokken said his team is now looking at how to allocate plainclothes officers as one option to help make up for the loss the drug unit will face.

"A large part of drug work is surveillance and to have an effective surveillance unit you do need a certain number of officers. So, in that regard, it does make it difficult to do an effective job of drug work," Lokken said.

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