Pubdate: Fri, 08 Apr 2005
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell, Crime Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


'Justification' For Helicopter Needed, Blair Says

Fantino-Era Report Urged Purchase To Quell Grow Ops

While Julian Fantino vigorously pressed for a police helicopter during his 
tenure as chief, his successor says he's not convinced a chopper is needed 
to patrol city skies.

"A helicopter is an excellent policing tool, but I would want to see more 
justification before I would ask this board or this city to spend that much 
money," chief designate Bill Blair said yesterday at city hall, outside the 
regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the police services board. The 
civilian oversight body announced his appointment as chief Wednesday.

The issue of a helicopter surfaced yesterday as board members considered a 
police report. It asked the city's budget advisory committee to fund a new 
green squad to deal with the increasing number of indoor commercial 
marijuana grow operations. Police estimate the team's start-up budget would 
be about $2.1 million in staff and equipment costs.

In 2004, the drug squad "attended, assessed and assisted with the 
investigation and dismantling of 320 grow operations," the report dated 
Feb. 22 said. Signed by Fantino, it added that police need more resources 
if they are to stem the tide.

The report says Toronto's lack of a helicopter with forward looking 
infra-red (FLIR) capability is causing concern that Toronto "is gaining a 
reputation within the criminal element for being an attractive location for 
grow operations." Both York and Durham Region police services are having 
some success in quelling the spread of grow ops using helicopters with the 
technology to help detect grow ops in suburban dwellings, Staff Insp. Dan 
Hayes, head of the drug squad and the report's author, told board members.

Outside the meeting, Hayes said that someone with the "inclination" to set 
up a grow op might look to an area without a police helicopter. Yet he 
added a helicopter isn't "anywhere near the top of the list" in terms of 
what police require to deal with the influx of grow ops.

Board members, agreeing that the issue of grow ops urgently needs 
attention, agreed to forward the report to city council. Blair said he 
backs the proposed green team. He noted it was city councillors who asked 
police to submit a report on what was needed to fight grow ops.

Right now, grow-op investigations are consuming so many resources that 
police are sometimes not busting the "low-paid individuals" often found 
tending the plants.

"We often will find ourselves in the position of taking out smaller 
marijuana grow operations but not wanting to tie up a lot of court 
resources and police resources in attempting to basically lock up the 
people who've been getting their fingers dirty watering plants. What we'd 
rather do is go after the organized criminal groups," Blair said.
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