Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jan 2004
Source: Midland Mirror (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 Midland Mirror
Author: Janis Leering


Police officers with the Huronia Combined Drug Forces Unit have been 
especially busy during the past week, after discovering $30-million worth 
of marijuana in Barrie.

But it's all in a day's work for the officers, who work together to sniff 
out and attempt to solve drug crimes throughout Simcoe County.

There are 14 officers who make up the unit, which was created in 1993 to 
concentrate on busting drug labs and growing operations.

"In 1989, a report came out after a youth died from taking LSD. It was 
decided that a joint force is the best way to fight street crime," said 
Det. Sgt. Jim Hutchinson, director of the drug enforcement section of the OPP.

He said the officers wear plainclothes, so they can move around in the 
community without being noticed.

"They aren't undercover officers. If they were, they would be able to 
periodically buy drugs. By being plainclothes officers, they can do 
surveillance, and deal with informants day to day."

The officers can obtain search warrants in order to raid any houses for drugs.

"They also deal with trafficking at schools, and summer eradication (in the 
fields), along with drug awareness presentations at the community level."

The unit works in Central Ontario, which includes Simcoe County, Muskoka 
and Haliburton. There is also a branch that serves the Kawartha area, 
including Peterborough.

The officers on the unit come from the OPP, Barrie, South Simcoe, and 
Midland police services.

While marijuana growing operations keep the team busy in the rural or 
farming areas, Central Ontario is also home to many new and popular strains 
of illicit drugs, such as Special K, Crystal Meth, and Ice.

Hutchinson said tips can come from Crime Stoppers, informants on the 
street, or information from one town can lead to a bust in another. "Our 
investigations can go Canada-wide, especially if we're dealing with exporting."

The large drug bust in Barrie was led by the Huronia Combined Forces Drug 
Unit, under the leadership of Det. Sgt. Jamie Ciotka.

"The unit may work with Metro (Toronto) police, or the RCMP, but it's a 
case-by-case basis. During this latest bust, the Huronia Combined Forces 
Drug Unit didn't need to call in the RCMP, but they may check to see if 
they have any background information."

Last year, the Huronia Combined Forces Drug Unit seized a total of $81 
million in drugs, which resulted in 981 charges.

They found 64 indoor marijuana growing operations, and 70 crops were found 
growing outdoors.

"That totalled 63,000 marijuana plants, and they also seized $595,000 worth 
of property, $120,000 in cash, and 74 weapons."

Southern Georgian Bay OPP Det. Sgt. Jim Christie said if he had more 
officers on staff, he would be searching through other abandoned buildings 
in the county. Christie said if he had the time and resources, he would 
also be looking at similar buildings in North Simcoe.

"Where this one becomes interesting is the building wasn't empty, they had 
re-leased a lot of it," said Christie.

He compared the situation to a shooting at the Mitsubishi plant in Midland 
last September, where a man was wounded by a gunshot to the arm. Police 
spent the next day combing through the building, and had to question many 
people, because it was being rented by several companies.

"It is similar because other companies were using it for storage."

But he did say that at the end of the day, officers are aware of situations 
they need to know about.

"This stuff comes through people calling us, and if this was a Crime 
Stoppers tip, I don't know if they could afford to pay the guy," he said 
with a smile.

But any tips coming through Crime Stoppers pay a maximum of $1,000, with no 

"The police have said it was a tip, and the term tip is a very generic term 
in today's society. Even if it was a Crime Stoppers tip, we wouldn't be 
able to say yes or no," said Det. Const. Peter Leon, with 
Simcoe-Dufferin-Muskoka Crime Stoppers.

"Our rewards are up to $1,000, and if anyone else has information about 
marijuana grows and wishes to call us, we'd be more than happy to take the 
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