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Time-delayed safes are working

January 11, 2023
Robberies have decreased, but pharmacy teams must remain vigilant.

It’s been a little more than six months since it became mandatory for all community pharmacies in Alberta to keep narcotics and other at-risk drugs locked in time-delayed safes. So far, pharmacy teams properly using the safes are making a big difference in preventing pharmacy robberies.

In Calgary, there were 58 pharmacy robberies in 2022; however, most of those occurred before the July 1 implementation of the time-delayed safe requirement. Since July 1, Calgary has experienced 14 pharmacy robberies—and one since October 2022. This compares to 89 pharmacy robberies in Calgary in 2021.

“It’s been a recognizable difference in a positive way,” said Anthony Thompson, Acting Sergeant, Calgary Police Service. “It’s like a hockey stick curve downwards with our robbery trends. We’d like to think as long as the pharmacy teams keep their safes locked, that trend will continue.”

In Edmonton, the trend has been even more positive. The Alberta capital experienced 10 pharmacy robberies in 2022, and none since April 2022. In 2021, there were 39 pharmacy robberies in Edmonton.

“We could not have asked for better results,” said David Green, Detective, Edmonton Police Service. “The only worry is that any time we find a crime prevention tactic that works, we have to pay attention to see if the criminals change their tactics to work around it.”

ACP amended its Standards for the Operation of Licensed Pharmacies effective January 1, 2022. As of that date, new pharmacies were required to have a time-delayed safe installed prior to opening. Existing pharmacies were required to have their safes installed and in use by July 1, 2022. The amendments to the standards were the result of local police services engaging with ACP and the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association (RxA) in a provincial working group. The group recommended following British Columbia’s lead by making time-delayed safes mandatory—a tactic that produced positive results in B.C. Recently, the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professionals approved a similar requirement, while the Ontario College of Pharmacists’ council is scheduled to vote in March on whether to make time-delayed safes mandatory.

“It was very gratifying,” said Acting Sergeant Thompson of the amendments to the standards. “We knew this would be one of the key elements in turning the tide with pharmacy robberies. For those changes to come through as soon as they did was an excellent example of the college recognizing the need.”

As a member of the provincial working group, Acting Sergeant Thompson was a driving force for mandating time-delayed safes. He also engaged with pharmacy teams across Calgary, including those who have experienced a robbery, to help make pharmacies and communities safer. For his efforts, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal.

“It feels really good. It’s one of those moments in your career where you make a positive impact on the community,” he said. “As much as I’m out there, I know the hard work these pharmacy teams put into their job. They show up for work every day. Some of these pharmacy professionals who were hit by robberies were back at work the next day or the day after, knowing full well what the risks were. If I could give each of them a medal for what they’ve been through the last couple of years, I would. They’re on the front lines trying to make their communities healthier. I share this honour with them.”

Acting Sergeant Thompson and Detective Green both remind pharmacy teams that while we’ve experienced success in preventing robberies using time-delayed safes—combined with other crime-prevention tools such as alarms and video surveillance systems—pharmacy teams must remain vigilant to keep the robbery trends where they are.

“Remember the success that this has had,” said Detective Green. “We’re all human. We can become complacent. If something works, you can start thinking you don’t need it anymore, but then something can happen to remind us that we do.”

For more information on the time-delayed safe requirement and other pharmacy robbery prevention tips and resources, visit the Pharmacy robberies and burglary page on the ACP website.