Dozens of weapons seized in encampment removals: Edmonton police share graphic images

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Warning: this story contains details some readers may find disturbing 

In a rare and shocking glimpse into the inner workings of a “high risk” encampment, Edmonton’s media community had a technical briefing unlike others Tuesday afternoon.

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A gleaming array of dozens of weapons cache was spread out on two tables. From an antler-handled machete and ornate ceremonial looking swords to brass knuckles and slashing knives, the entire collection came from one abandoned case located at the Dawson ravine encampment.

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The deadliest part of the briefing was images not meant for public consumption, pictures too gruesome for the media to show readers, of people who died in encampment fires while trying to keep warm.

Footage from a security camera captured the terror of a man fleeing a tent fire with his hand blown off by accelerant from a propane tank that had been keeping him warm.

He appeared to have been using a small propane bottle propped open to make an open flame, called “venting.”

The burning gas ignited and blew his hand off. He survived for a while but died later from the injuries.

A second image showed a body burned to the bone. The fire had burned hotter and longer, and it was 11 minutes before first responders could get there.

Others showed faces and limbs burned featureless.

Multiple images showed power boxes campers have literally hacked into, rigged up with wires and ready to electrocute someone, an illicit tie-in to a city power pole outside the Bissell Centre, sucking power away for a camper’s small appliances.

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Another tent loaded with bike parts is an actual chop shop, where bicycles would be dismantled and become unrecognizable — a kind of currency on the street.

Some encampment activities were difficult to talk about — a disturbed camper throwing feces over the 97 Street bridge on unsuspecting passersby and cars.

The law of clearing encampments: if you find a pail, don’t open it — it could well be a slop pail.

Footage showed encampment fires about to ignite a house they’re close to, and first responders hammering on the door to awaken residents to the danger.

A propane tank hanging on the side of a motorhome outside the Quasar bottle depot, directly venting into the vehicle.

Another fire igniting a tent, with both individuals inside the tent so intoxicated they couldn’t put the fire out — although they tried.

Video showed first responders trying to revive an overdosed man.

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Given the warning the encampments will be taken down within 48 hours, some occupants are refusing to fold up their tents — instead, they’re raising the stakes, said Deputy Police Chief Warren Dreichel.

“We’re seeing an intentional hardening of these targets,” he said.

Booby traps are set in some tents, clumsy but deadly security rigged with trip fires so nail-studded boards or plywood falls on anyone who ventures in to check on the wellness of the occupants.

A man riding a bike in the river valley was clothes-lined recently by a neck-height wire.

Gangs are preying on vulnerable campers, setting up “taxation” tents like trolls under bridges, demanding payment for the use of safe consumption sites, or a chance to visit an agency to get free needles, or pick up a cheque.

But it’s hard to get vulnerable complainants to complain — their lifestyle takes them back into the street, Draichel said.

A 16-year-old girl was being sex-trafficked around the encampments. She was found in hospital with 75 per cent burns — under an alias.

Dismantling eight “high risk shelters” since last Friday, police took apart 120 structures with 100 occupants. They conducted five medical interventions.

They destroyed 2,000 injection needles, seized 197 propane tanks.

About 50,000 kilograms of waste was removed.

There are still almost 800 high-risk encampments.

Police have now established two permanent high-risk encampment teams.

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