Spike in pharmacy robberies prompts Edmonton detective to call for mandatory time-delay safes

EDMONTON — A recent spike in pharmacy robberies has one detective in Edmonton Police Service’s (EPS) Robbery Section calling for increased measures to keep store staff members safe.

CTV News Edmonton has learned that Alberta’s capital city has already seen 28 pharmacy robberies – either failed or successful – occur in 2021 alone.

That’s compared to a total of 26 robberies for all of 2019 and 2020 combined.

“Not surprising either,” Det. David Green told CTV News Edmonton. “B.C. had a real problem with it a few years back. They implemented some measures, specifically time-delay safes… which had a tremendous effect.”

It’s those time-delay safes that Green would also like to see mandated in Alberta – to help prevent the continued theft of drug stores’ narcotics.

As the name suggests, time-delay safes automatically delay the opening of safes by 10 minutes; the idea being the prospect of robbing a pharmacy that’s equipped with one less appealing to would-be thieves.

According to Green, one B.C. business experienced 16 robberies in four months. After that business took extra measures – including increased staff, security cameras, and a time-delay safe – that number dropped to one attempted robbery in the last three years.

“That is an absolute dream for anybody in law enforcement,” said Green. “To reduce anything by that percentage is absurd.”

Last month Alberta’s Rexall stores began implementing time-delay safes after a number of robberies.

Over one-third of the 28 robberies in Edmonton in 2021 took place at Rexall stores.

Green tells CTV News Edmonton two of the 10 robberies at Rexall stores failed thanks to time-delayed safes.

Meanwhile, Green says his unit has had several discussions with pharmacy chains, as well as the Alberta College of Pharmacy and the Alberta Pharmacists Association about implementing time-delay safes in every pharmacy in the city.

“In speaking with some of the members at the College, they’ve actually recommended the same for years, it just hasn’t been put into their mandates,” said Green.

Green equates the lack of required measures to solve the pharmacy robbery problem to the string of “gas-and-dash” incidents from several years ago.

In 2017, a gas station attendant was killed when he tried to stop a driver from fleeing with stolen fuel.

That incident led to new legislation in Alberta, requiring gas station customers to pay before fueling up.

While Green says instances of physical violence in recent pharmacy robberies have been rare so far, there’s always a chance that could change. He hopes time-delay safes are made mandatory in the province before it does.

“There are people who are terrified to go to work because they don’t know what’s going to happen that day.”

RESPONSE FROM ALBERTA COLLEGE OF PHARMACY

In a written response to CTV News Edmonton, the Alberta College of Pharmacy said it was concerned about the recent increase in pharmacy robberies.

“The Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP)… has engaged with the Edmonton Police Service, Calgary Police Service, and RCMP to discuss strategies to help prevent pharmacy robberies,” spokesperson Barry Strader wrote.

“Installing time-delayed safes is one of several strategies recommended by ACP that pharmacies can implement to help prevent robberies.

“ACP has recently provided pharmacy teams with many online resources to help prevent robberies, including the recommendation to install time-delayed safes. It is encouraging to see more pharmacies in Alberta investing in time-delayed safes as one way to ensure the safety and security of their staff and the public. 

“Pharmacies have not been required to invest in time-delayed safes previously; however a mandatory requirement for these has not been ruled out. ACP remains committed to helping ensure the safety and security of pharmacy team members and Albertans.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s David Ewasuk

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