ATM smash-and-grab epidemic hits close to home

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Followers of crime news have probably noticed a lot of cash-machine theft stories lately. It’s a province-wide phenomenon, and businesses in both Slave Lake and Smith have been hit in the past few weeks. And as convenient as it would be if it were a single team of organized crooks, it’s not looking that way.

“The more information we dig up,” says Slave Lake RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans, “the more it looks like they’re not related. And that they are traveling criminals.”

The traveling crooks conclusion is a fairly easy one, given that the stolen property often turns up quite far from where it was taken. The ATM stolen from the Slave Lake Sobey’s on Mar. 2, for example, was found ditched near Swan Hills. And the one taken from a store in Smith turned up in the Athabasca area, while the stolen truck used in that theft was found in Edmonton.

“It’s probably not local people,” says Spaans, adding however that “we don’t want to close that door,” because there are certainly local people capable of such crimes.

As far as the ATM thefts not being related, it’s also quite possible that some of them are. There are two distinct types; one is the common one as at Sobey’s, where the doors are breached, a rope put around the machine and it’s yanked out, thrown in the back of the pickup and off they go. The other type Spaans describes as “quite brazen,” and involves entry through the roof. This was the method used at Slave Lake’s Fas Gas about a month ago. The culprits apparently drilled and cut a hole through the roof exactly over the small secure room, where they had their way with the ATM. It suggests a certain amount of planning and expertise.

Owner Khadim Hussein showed The Leader the hole, which is big enough to let a small person through.

He’s frustrated by the apparent lack of results in catching whoever is responsible.

Meanwhile, the through-the-roof method has been seen elsewhere.

“It’s similar to others across Alberta,” Spaans says. “Valleyview had one four days later. It’s also happened in Red Deer, Innisfail, Calgary.”

The more common type of ATM theft is the break-in through the front doors – often by smashing them with a stolen vehicle. In the case of the Mar. 2 incident at Sobey’s, the two men used what appeared to be a grinder to breach the locking mechanism, says store owner Ryan Gaillard. This was at 4:30 a.m. and a baker was on the premises. Gaillard says he was alerted by the bang of the ATM hitting the floor as it was tugged by the rope attached to the pickup. He went to see what was happening and saw them loading the machine and driving off.
“We won’t be putting another ATM in the front of the lobby,” says Gaillard.

As far as the investigations are going, Spaans says it involves a lot of sharing of information between police detachments. There is some forensic evidence building and in some cases there are suspects.

One thing worth noting is that the machines often have little or no money in them when they’re stolen, Spaans says. Sometimes they do, but often the biggest loss to the company is the cost of the machine itself, plus repairing whatever damage there is from the break-in.

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