EDMONTON – The agency that catches child pornographers and drug dealers is raising the alarm over a major funding shortfall.
“The provincial funding over the last three years has been reduced by about a third,” said Shami Sandhu, ALERT Chair.
The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) said the decrease, combined with federal grant money running out, means it’s going to have to cut 72 positions. There are currently 268 positions within ALERT.
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Because of the funding shortfall, ALERT said it will no longer be able to house the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Program, which targets drug houses and problem businesses. It also said it will have to cut back in the Organized Crime Unit.
“There are certain areas that aren’t going to be policed as well, such as organized crime,” said Sandhu.
“The other issue is that a lot of those responsibilities that ALERT was filling in local municipalities, that’s now going to get downloaded to local police services.”
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ALERT has a strong focus on organized crime. It handles child pornography investigations through its ICE Unit and last year, charged more than 600 people and seized $48 million in drugs.
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The justice minister said the province will be able to maintain the “current overall level of policing,” but where those units will be located could change.
“We’re not 100 per cent sure on what the direction is going forward, but we are certain we are going to be able to maintain the critical functions that ALERT performs,” Minister Kathleen Ganley said.
“All of the same functions will be fulfilled, which we think is the really critical piece.”
Ganley said she’s just not sure whether all those functions should remain under ALERT’s scope.
“In a lot of ways they’re doing fantastic work. I think it’s just a question of whether all those things necessarily belong together.”
ALERT received $26.5 million in provincial funding this year, down from a high of $39 million in 2013.
Sandhu said many crime issues are province-wide, which is why he feels the best way to police them is with a province-wide agency like ALERT.
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However, in the face of cuts, he said the agency won’t spread the 72 positions across all departments, but will eliminate certain units entirely to keep the priority areas supported.
“We’ve actually decided to… try to keep our focus on our core business, which is organized crime and internet child exploitation,” he said.
With files from Tom Vernon, Global News