By Trevor Busch
Over the next several years and beyond, officers from the Taber Police Service will be rotating through a new position with a provincial Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) based in Lethbridge.
ALERT teams were established by the province in 2006 to combat organized and serious crime. Municipal police and RCMP officers work together in teams to investigate everything from drug trafficking to child exploitation to gang violence, with the goal to create safer communities.
“They’re a policing organization comprised of over 200 officers in the province that are from municipal police agencies and the RCMP,” said TPS Chief Graham Abela. “Most of the police agencies in the province have been involved with the works of the combined force, the special operations units within the region that exist within ALERT.”
The strength of the ALERT model lies in the integration of members from various police agencies who have expertise in intelligence, enforcement and support services. This co-operative approach has proven to be an extremely successful model, especially as the criminal landscape evolves and pushes beyond local and regional boundaries.
“We’ve been fortunate to have one of our members qualify to be part of that team,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “ALERT is quite involved with a lot of provincial representations — I think it’s been more larger centres — but now there’s some smaller centres also being part of this. So just timing that we were able to get on board with this and be part of this team.”
ALERT’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Units (CFSEU) are based in seven cities around the province including Lethbridge. They aim to disrupt and dismantle organized crime in both rural and urban areas, and investigators often conduct long-term, in-depth operations that have a significant impact on reducing crime. To achieve their goals, CFSEU teams utilize a number of specialized law enforcement techniques.
“We as the Taber Police Service — I’ve been lobbying here, as chief, and even prior to my time as chief — to obtain a funded position from the province to participate in the ALERT CFSEU, and the Lethbridge regional team,” said Abela. “I’ve been sitting on the board of directors for ALERT for the last year and bit, and those discussions have been held at the board table. There were decisions made there to incorporate all of the police agencies in Alberta, not just the big five, to participate and as a result of that have received a funded position.”
CFSEU teams are involved in combatting drug trafficking, street gang activity, outlaw motorcycle group activity, firearms trafficking, financial crimes (fraud, counterfeiting, money laundering), extortion and intimidation, and organized vehicle theft and re-VINning vehicles.
“One of our officers already has been seconded to ALERT CFSEU in Lethbridge, and will be working with the team there on serious and organized crime files, within the region of southwestern Alberta,” said Abela, who cannot reveal the identity of the current member for operational reasons. “We’ve had an officer there since April, and they have been involved in numerous criminal files already. It’s been a boon for us. This is an indefinite position, there’s no end date to the secondment. However, we will be rotating members in and out of the position to allow for some experience and participation within the CFSEU. The current officer, we plan on them being there for three years.”
Seconding an officer to the ALERT CFSEU required an amendment to Article 16.3 of the Taber Police Association Employment and Benefits Terms Contract, which was approved by town council following closed session discussion at the March 23 meeting.
“That’s where there was some travel requirements in place needed, and some expense requirements that way,” said Prokop. “Not a huge amount of dollar value involved there, just something that was missed in the contract that is now something new as far as opportunity for our Taber Police Service.”
Abela explained the amendment allows the police service to financially incentivize the position for officers, who otherwise might be discouraged to take on the role.
“Basically, what happens within policing is that when members are taken out of the patrol function and put into specialty positions, their remuneration for the position decreases substantially because of overtime, shift differential, court time, weekend premiums, things like that. What we do with our specialty positions — the executive officer, school resource officer, and now the ALERT CFSEU position — we add four per cent to base salary to compensate for the money they would lose by not being in the patrol section. It’s an incentive for officers, because there are expenses associated with this position.”
Expenses such as fuel and other factors needed to be squared away.
“We just need to make sure that we have officers that are willing to go in,” said Abela. “As with anyone, it’s human nature not to want to lose your remuneration for trying something.”
Funding for ALERT, including the cost of policing resources, is provided primarily by the Government of Alberta, with significant contributions from the Government of Canada. Although the ALERT website indicates that “partner police agencies contribute a number of positions to the model at their own expense” Abela pointed out the TPS secondment will not be funded by the taxpayers of the community.
“This is a fully funded position. The province pays for the salary, benefits, pension and expenses, and some training associated with that ALERT secondment. So it’s at zero cost to the Town of Taber.”
Beyond the cost factor, Abela explained the value of the position for the community and police service in enhancing what the TPS already provide.
“It’s huge. Having someone at the table at the daily briefings with the Combined Forces Special Operations Unit allows for specific input from a Taber police officer to be involved and set strategies for that CFSEU team, what’s it going to undertake. That’s the first thing for me, being at that table allows input into the direction of what is going to happen operationally for CFSEU in our region. That’s a big one.”
Gaining a wealth of new experience while providing what we already have — will pay dividends for the service from a training perspective, argues Abela.
“The second thing is, with the case of our officers going there, we can contribute to CFSEU with our experience and knowledge that we have as a community policing agency, with our officers that are very well trained but sometimes don’t necessarily have all the experiences that some of the larger police services have, just due to call volume and the amount of criminality that occurs. We get to provide our experience and expertise and abilities; at the same time we get the synergies of learning their experiences, expertise and training, which eventually as the officers roll the experience back into the police service, will come here. So it’s a win-win.”
The experience will allow some members to participate in aspects of law enforcement they might otherwise never see unless working with another agency.
“The third thing is, it gives some of our officers experiences they wouldn’t have had elsewhere, that they wouldn’t get by being a member of the Taber Police Service,” said Abela. “We don’t have the specialty units here in Taber — just due to our size and capacities — that larger organizations have. So this is a way to have a funded opportunity to do that without the officer having to go be employed elsewhere. It has retention benefits as well.”
Finally, on the intelligence front, developing a personal conduit for information sharing between agencies will be beneficial.
“We as police officers — as you can imagine, you all watch us on TV — we gather intelligence from the community, and then we share that with our regional partners where its necessary to ensure that we have a regional understanding of criminality and intelligence-led operations in southwestern Alberta. Our intelligence now has a conduit to the ALERT CFSEU, and as result I think it will benefit policing in general in southwestern Alberta, in relation to identifying who the bad guys are, and specific plans and action to investigate, and where applicable lay charges and prosecute individuals who are involved in crime, as well as increase the capacity around the rural crime picture that’s hitting us hard in rural Alberta.”