Pubdate: Wed, 13 Sep 2006
Source: Review, The (CN ON)
Section: Pg A1
Copyright: 2006 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Karena Walter, Osprey News Network
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


ST. CATHARINES - The persistence of marijuana grow operations in 
Niagara and potential chemical labs on the horizon has police forming 
a team to combat the problem.

Known informally as Guns, Gangs and Grows, the Niagara Regional 
Police squad will focus specifically on those crimes under the 
umbrella of the intelligence unit.

Staff-Sgt. George Ravenek, who leads the intelligence unit, said 
illegal guns, grow operations and gang activities are intricately related.

"Where there are marijuana grows, there are often guns. There's a lot 
of crossover between these areas of concern," he said.

"It makes us able to more efficiently combat these three different problems."

The five-member team will bolster current resources and have 
specialized training to enter drug houses. As well, officers in each 
of the six area districts will receive the same training and be 
liaisons for the team.

The NRP is funding the initiative through a grant received from the 
province to help cover the cost to hire 31 new officers.

Police spokesman Const. Sal Basilone said the funding covers half of 
wages up to a maximum of $35,000 per year.

Police have busted 20 marijuana grow operations so far this year, in 
a variety of indoor and outdoor premises. That's low compared to 
other years, Ravenek said, because police haven't put special 
resources into targeting the grow-ops in anticipation of the new team 
being formed.

In the last week police made several related arrests, including on 
Monday when a Niagara Falls couple was charged for producing a 
controlled substance. Police said they were growing half a dozen 
plants about two metres tall in their residential backyard.

They were also charged for possessing and carelessly storing a 
firearm with ammunition readily available.

On Friday, police found nearly $200,000 worth of marijuana plants in 
the basement of a Niagara-on-the-Lake home on Line 4.

During that raid, police also found 13 firearms, one of which was 
stolen in Huntsville.

The others were not registered and Ravenek said police are tracing 
the serial numbers.

Det.-Sgt. James Leigh of the morality unit said they've noticed 
grow-ops in the region are getting smaller in size, but not in 
number. Police think that's because hydro companies are tipped off to 
large grow operations due to the amount of electricity required.

With its primary focus on guns, gangs and grow-ops, the new squad is 
a resource to supplement the morality and street crime units, Ravenek said.

Det.-Sgt. Mark McMullen, who heads the St. Catharines street crime 
unit, said investigating marijuana grow-ops is labour-intensive. The 
preparation work from surveillance, studying hydro records and 
gathering grounds for a warrant can take between 120 and 200 work 
hours, he said.

"It's going to take a little strain off divisional street crime units 
and allow us to get on with other things, which is always a help," 
McMullen said.

While marijuana grow-ops are a problem currently seen in Niagara, 
Ravenek said chemical processing labs, such as meth labs, are 
expected to be the next trend.

"Those are the labs that are a real concern because they are 
dangerous to go into," Ravenek said, explaining health risks due to 
chemicals and gases, fire and explosions, as well as environmental 
issues involving improper exposure.

Children found in those kinds of chemical labs are particularly 
threatened, Ravenek said, because toxic gases and vapours are 
absorbed in their systems faster than adults and they can have 
long-term health effects.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman