Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jan 2004
Source: Rocky View Times (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 Rocky View Times.
Author: Samara Cygman
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Residents Say Pot Busts Are Indication That Community Efforts Are Working

Chestermere residents scoff at the suggestion they are living in the
Cannabis Capital of Canada.

But, with 21 pot operations busted, netting $15 million in the last
year, Chestermere's reputation of being a marijuana mecca, is growing

That reputation could be credited to not the sheer amount of criminal
activity in the sleepy lake-side town of 5,700, but the informed and
diligent residents who won't back down to organized crime.

Community up in arms

To ensure residents they were on the job, Strathmore RCMP held a
community meeting last summer and briefed the crowd about the "seedy"

"They were trying to let everybody know what was going on," says one
resident, who wishes to remain anonymous.

This meeting sparked a large-scale information campaign where tips
about spotting grow operations were included in a brochure, mailed out
with a homeowner's utility bills.

Armed with the information necessary, residents did what it took to
rid their community of the scourge.

"In this cul-de-sac, we've all been really watching them. We're all
pretty vigilant now."

The cul-de-sac, West Creek Close, had experienced a number of busts in
one day.

Thanks to the residents, who noticed the inhabitants, of Asian
background, were uncharacteristically quiet, not willing to socialize
with the neighbours and kept unusual hours, three houses were raided
on that day in January 2003.

"They blacked out the windows. When they really got going, you smelled
the skunk smell, too," he says.

"They weren't interested in being a part of the community or getting
involved." From their house, the young couple witnessed the police
move in and bust all three houses at the same time.

Standing in the living room of their home, they feared an increase in
crime in the area and a decrease in property values.

And now, with a beautiful one-month-old baby boy, they will do
anything to protect their family and community.

"We don't want these guys to get established in our area, especially
now that we have precious cargo in the house."

So, are they living in the marijuana municipality of Canada? Or is it
a case of diligent residents fighting back?

"We're just doing something about it -- that's why there have been so
many busts. It's just a small community and we're being proactive," he
says. "That's the kind of block we have and that's what has helped get
rid of these guys."

Tips are key: RCMP

Strathmore Staff Sergeant Glenn De Goeij says it's the tips from
informed residents that lead RCMP officers to the houses in question.

Residents were taught what to look for and asked by the RCMP to be
inquisitive, but not intrusive.

"Observation powers in Chestermere are heightened compared to other
parts of the country because of the work we've done with the community
through the information we provided, either through mail-outs or
through public meetings and obviously through the media," says De Goeij.

"We're getting information from the public on a regular basis, which
we obviously follow up. That's how they are traditionally uncovered."

Another clue that may point to a green scheme could be the
overburdening of the electrical system.

Perpetrators will steal power using illegal electrical bypass systems
and, in the process, might trip a breaker or transformer because the
system is under pressure. This is cause for alarm.

"In the past, in Strathmore, we had one structure fire that I'm aware
of that was started by an illegal electrical bypass for a grow
operation that wasn't held correctly," says De Goeij.

"If anything's going to happen, it's going to be a result of
mis-wiring or something which has the potential to start a fire. Those
are the largest concerns."

No different than other towns

Besides being close to a major centre, Chestermere is no different
than any other community it's size.

But, it is that proximity to Calgary that makes this community popular
for organized criminals.

"People are coming and going to work and there's not necessarily, in
some of the newer parts, the sense of community that there once would
be found in smaller communities, i.e. where everybody knows everybody
and everybody knows everybody's business. So I think organized crime
takes advantage of that in some of these locations," explains De
Goeij, but adds Chestermere is one out of many communities
experiencing a rise in ganja grows.

He speculates much of the attention Chestermere is seeing is attracted
by the cooperation RCMP is getting from the public.

"We could say 20 grow operations have been taken down in Chestermere
but I don't think the problem with Chestermere is anyway bigger than
the problem in other lake communities," says De Goeij. "It's just that
we've had phenomenal results in doing something about it."

The RCMP have labeled marijuana grow operations as a swelling problem
in Canada and are noticing more and more of such indoor operations in
the country.

Costing only about $8,000 to set up, criminals can reap rewards of
$50,000 to $100,000 after only one harvest.

And much of those profits are going toward organized criminal

"Grow operations have been identified by police services across the
country as an increasing threat to public health and safety and a
major contributor to financing organized crime," says Calgary Police
Service Drug Unit Staff Sergeant Trevor Daroux. "Organized crime uses
money gained from grow operations to fund other criminal ventures,
such as importing and manufacturing cocaine, methamphetamines and crack."

Green Team fighting back

To combat the ever-increasing number of grow operations in southern
Alberta, city police and RCMP have joined forces in the creation of
the Southern Alberta Marijuana Investigative Team (SAMIT).

Together with Calgary Police Service and the Criminal Intelligence
Service of Alberta (CISA), RCMP officers on what is affectionately
dubbed the "Green Team" will develop expertise about investigating and
taking down grow operations.

A much needed service, says De Goeij.

"As you get into these numbers you can imagine the type of things
we're dealing with and the large quantity of drugs and all the work
that's involved there. We recognized the need that's in southern
Alberta," explains De Goeij, who adds they approached the province for
help and was delighted when they received it.

"It was formed because of obviously the increase we are seeing in
these types of operations throughout the province and, in fact,
throughout the country. It's modeled after teams in place in other
provinces and on recognized demand by the government and by the police
forces that we need a joint approach to these things."

Many grows are tied to organized crime and cross jurisdictional
boundaries in urban and rural areas between different RCMP
detachments, which is why, De Goeij says, SAMIT is a much-need

Now detachments can focus on sniffing out the operations, while the
Green Team takes them down.

"They'll be able to come in and assist us by actually doing the
physical dismantling of the operations, handling the exhibits, doing a
lot of the paperwork and providing expert evidence that, in the past,
was left to detachments," says De Goeij.

"The difference between the way we were doing it and the way it's
being done now is night and day."

Efficiency, safety and speed are all the factors making sure SAMIT
produces a higher quality of investigation than ever seen before.

The Green Team is based in Calgary and acts as the central linkage for
a web of crime-fighting resources.

"We're all integrated together and are working much better together
now than we were in the past. It's excellent -- it's good news for the
communities and bad news for the criminals," says De Goeij. "It's a
team that we, at least in Strathmore, along with our other partners,
have been advocating and pushing for since we got involved with the
magnitude of the grows we found in Chestermere in this past year."

Grow operations pose a certain level of risk to police officers and
the community -- a concern well-addressed by the Green Team.

Because members will be focusing specifically on grows, they will soon
be able to call themselves experts and be able to handle the things
inherent with raiding a large-scale marijuana operation, like
hazardous chemicals and potentially unstable electrical devices.

When on a raid, the RCMP officers will secure the residence while the
SAMIT members will handle all exhibits and the dismantling of the operation.

In the past, space was a huge area of concern and police had to
scramble to find trucks to haul out equipment from a large grow. Now,
that is all taken care of.

"In Chestermere for example, we had to go out and rent trucks for some
of the grows we took down because of the amount of equipment and drugs
we were receiving. All of this stuff takes time and resources,"
explains De Goeij.

"Now that's all done ahead of time. They come prepared to take apart
these grow operations and that's their focus, so we at the detachments
can focus on identifying the people responsible and handling anybody
found in the residence."

And, Strathmore RCMP have had such success in using the Green Team
since its inception in October, the resource has become "a staple" in
their plan.

Mayor says move on

It's time to get out of Dodge.

That's the message Chestermere Mayor Dave Mikkelsen is sending to
those who think his town is a nice place to set up a grow operation.

"We're not going to lighten up on arrests or grow operations -- we're
going to accelerate it," promises Mikkelsen.

Chestermere currently has no permanent RCMP detachment -- the closest
one is located in Strathmore.

But what they do have is a constant police presence, with three
officers working out of a satellite detachment within the town.

And more are on the order.

"We hope to have another one start this month and we've already put
our order in for a fifth officer. We're just going to step it up,"
says Mikkelsen.

He wanted to let residents of Chestermere know he is pleased with the
conscientious effort put into keeping the town a safer place.

"We're very proud of the diligence they are showing us in informing
the authorities when they suspect operations, and we hope they
continue to do so," says Mikkelsen. He adds it's not simply residents
living near marijuana grows who are tipping police officers to the

Passersby, who drive through Chestermere, have been responsible for
providing RCMP with the information necessary to facilitate the
takedown of a grow operation. "It's not necessarily neighbours. It's
just people in town who happen to be driving past somewhere on a
regular basis and they happen to notice these things."

He scoffs at the idea that Chestermere is any worse off than other
places in Canada and says all the busted houses are due mostly, in
part, to the work put in by a community sick of this element in their

"It doesn't matter what community you go to. You are going to find it
and all we can do as a town is do our best to curtail it."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin