Pubdate: Fri, 04 Mar 2005
Source: Peterborough Examiner, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Trevor Wilhelm
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Electrified door handles, fish hooks hanging from trees to poke out your 
eyes, shotguns hooked to trip wires and armed guards perched in trees.

Peterborough's drug police can relate to what the four Alberta RCMP 
officers killed during a drug raid yesterday - in the worst Canadian 
tragedy of its kind in 120 years - might have been up against.

"These difficulties are always out there," said Const. Brad Filman of the 
Peterborough County OPP. "It's one of the things we're always faced with. 
Gun calls are just a way of life with us. We live in rural Ontario. 
Statistics will prove that most households out there have guns."

The four officers went to a farmhouse near Rochfort Bridge, Alta., a 
village about 130 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, while conducting a raid 
on a hydroponic marijuana operation. They surprised a lone male suspect who 
shot them with a high-powered rifle before killing himself.

A fifth RCMP officer, who was in the area on an unrelated stolen property 
investigation, discovered the bodies.

Filman, also a member of the Ontario Police Memorial and the Canadian 
Police Memorial, said it's the first time in modern Canadian history that 
many police officers were killed at once in the line of duty.

He said a 1968 incident in Minden, where two Peterborough OPP officers were 
shot and killed, had previously been one of the worst.

"It's a record, there's never been four shot and killed in Canada," said 
Filman, who was once shot himself when he was ambushed by bikers. "This is 
a worst case scenario, it's our worst fear. It's incomprehensible in Canada."

No one will struggle more to understand the tragedy, Filman said, then the 
families of the fallen officers.

"The first thing is shock," Filman said. "Sometimes it takes days before 
the realization comes. They can be someone's parent or wife or husband. 
When you get that knock at the door and you see a uniform standing there, 
you know right away."

Det. Sgt. Dean Steinke of the Kawartha Combined Forces Drug Unit said he 
hopes the suffering those families must now endure will serve as a wake up 
call to others who think the marijuana trade isn't a serious problem.

"I always hear people say it's only marijuana," Steinke said. "I get so 
tired of hearing it's only marijuana. Cops just got shot for only marijuana."

Police repeatedly put their lives on the line to stop the criminals growing 
and selling marijuana and other drugs, he said.

"There's always some type of weapon," Steinke said. "We've seized more guns 
this year than ever before. The most scary thing is the armed individuals. 
You're going in and confronting these individuals and they have guns on the 
ready. You don't know who's inside or how many."

With plants worth between $1,000 and $3,000 each, it's often a safe bet 
someone is there standing guard.

"As the crops get close to harvesting, they sit on them 24 hours a day," 
Filman said. "In all likelihood, there will be more than one sitting on the 
grow op. It's not uncommon to find heavy duty fire power."

But no matter how many times police raid a drug operation, Filman said 
criminals always find ways to keep law enforcement on its toes.

One raid of a drug grow op in the Kawartha Lakes area a year or two ago 
comes to mind, he said. The police were there collecting marijuana plants, 
he said, dressed in their drug enforcement uniforms.

"These guys came in dressed the same as us, as law enforcement officers, 
and armed," said Filman, adding the criminals dressed like that so people 
would assume they were police. "It was kind of tense. That was one of the 
strangest ones."

That unknown element, Steinke said, is the reason extensive preparation is 
done before any operation.

"When we're executing a warrant, it's not a matter of getting the 
information and diving into a residence," Steinke said. "There's a lot of 
follow up before that. We want to know our adversaries. Are they violent, 
are they organized crime, do they have a history of crime?"

But it's not just the guys lying in wait with guns that police have to look 
out for.

"We're forever looking for booby traps," Steinke said.

Steinke and Filman said some of the traps they've seen include spike belts 
hidden under dirt, needles and fish hooks hanging at eye level in the bush, 
vicious dogs, motion detecting lights and even cans tied to strings to 
alert the drug growers if anyone is approaching.

Filman said he has also seen shotguns with trip wires attached to the triggers.

"We come in and set the strings off, and you know what happens then," 
Filman said.

Steinke said the actual drugs and chemicals police come to confiscate can 
pose their own hazards. Police have entered drug production areas on more 
than one occasion to accidentally inhale dangerous chemicals before they 
realized what was happening, he said.

"All of a sudden you can't breathe and you're gasping for air," Steinke 
said. "That's a normal occurrence."