Alberta pharmacists hoping time-delay safes will deter crime after spike in robberies

A spike in pharmacy robberies in Calgary and across Alberta has prompted pharmacies and police to team up on a plan to battle the problem.

Now pharmacies across the province will have signs on the door and near counters explaining their drugs are in time-delay safes – following in B.C.’s footsteps.

Amira Aly, a pharmacist who works at a Shoppers Drug Mart, says her store was robbed.

“I watched my pharmacist pushed to the ground, her head was hit to the floor,” said Aly. “And she was my student in Bow Valley College, she was my intern. We worked together for 10 years. I literally got sick after, I couldn’t see her pushed to the ground because part of her head was swollen.”

“Traumatized, definitely traumatized and it comes back to you all the time – especially if the incident was repeated you feel like it will repeat another time,” said Aly.

The time-delayed safes mean pharmacists enter a code, and they don’t know when that safe will open. It could be 10 minutes. It could be longer.

That is expected to increase safety by deterring robberies.

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“These guys know how to be in and out of a pharmacy in three minutes,” said Sgt. Anthony Thompson with the CPS robbery unit, describing how a typical robbery takes place.

“So with time delay safes taking say ten to fifteen minutes, they’re not going to wait for that,” said Thompson.

But things would be different with the safes.

“You punch in your code, and it’ll spit out a random time when that safe will open. So, it can be at any time that it does open, but that pharmacist is unaware of that time when it’s going to open up,” said Thompson.

Thompson says it’s usually not drug addicts going into a pharmacy and holding the place up, but someone wanting cough suppressant – for example – in order to eventually sell a byproduct of it on the streets.

“Cartogen liquid syrup was one of the primary targets for the first little while, it’s basically a cough suppressant,” said Thompson. “But, it’s as good as codeine. It became a famous party drug for raves and stuff like that, famously known as a drink called Lean. So, a lot of times this product was stolen, then converted in the streets.”

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Police say more pharmacies are being robbed in Alberta than ever before.

So far this year, Calgary has seen 27 pharmacy robberies. There have been 10 in Edmonton.

Calgary saw 89 pharmacy robberies between September 2020 and August 2021, but only four in the previous 12 months.

Alberta police and pharmacists are hoping to stop this trend.

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