Pubdate: Mon, 23 Oct 2006
Source: Port Hope Evening Guide (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 Port Hope Evening Guide
Author: Pete Fisher


After being with the Kawartha Combined Forces Drug Unit for less than 
two years, undercover Port Hope Police Detective Constable Mike 
Powell has seen first-hand what illegal drugs are doing to our 
society, and what society is or is not doing about the problem.

Det. Const. Powell has been a Port Hope police officer for six years. 
He's been with the KCFDU for 17 months. He recently consented to a 
candid discussion with the Northumberland Publishers about his time 
in the unit.

Even in that short time, he said he has seen how fighting the war on 
drugs is a day-to-day struggle for police a struggle where sometimes 
police come out on top, and sometimes, because of frustrations with 
the court system, it seems like they end up with the short end of the stick.

"The (intelligence) received by the unit about the amount of drugs on 
the street is astronomical, for this size of area," said Constable Powell.

"In the last three months we've had ecstasy seizures, crack cocaine, 
cocaine, marijuana and hash just in Port Hope."

On Wednesday, October 18, members of the unit, comprising officers 
from Port Hope, OPP and the City of Kawartha Lakes, executed a 
warrant in Port Hope. As a result two people, aged 22 and 18, were 
arrested, charged with possession of close to $5,000 worth of magic 
mushrooms, a hallucinogen.

During the week of September 18 - 22 the unit conducted marijuana 
eradication over the City of Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland County, 
Haliburton Highlands and Peterborough County, seizing 6,583 marijuana 
plants worth an estimated $6,583,000.

Over the course of five days, officers located 23 marijuana plots 
planted, often unbeknownst to the landowners, in cornfields, swamps 
and along creeks.

Because of the work of the unit, Det. Const. Powell said police are 
keeping "good control" over drugs. "I think we keep a tap on it."

"The drugs are becoming harder to get. I've heard from different 
people it's not as easy to get marijuana and cocaine as it once was."

But like so many police officers, Det. Const. Powell is also 
frustrated with the judicial system.

"The court system does not take it as seriously as we do," he suggested.

People convicted of operating marijuana grow operations in excess of 
$100,000 often do not get jail sentences and when they are arrested, 
he said, they are often released from custody by the courts.

"I guess the courts probably see it as a victimless crime when, in 
fact, over my time, I've seen the families, mothers, fathers, 
affected by (drugs)."

"I've been in contact with people trying to get off crack cocaine. 
They say it's just too tough, even after being in rehab for four months."

As for marijuana, Det. Constable Powell calls it a "gateway drug."

"It's like the alcoholic, you start off with three beer and you get 
that buzz feeling. Then you end up drinking harder and more alcohol."

He suggested the progression is similar to starting with one joint, 
then progressing to more and and harder drugs, like cocaine.

"You have to take more to have the effect."

Once you're addicted, families, friends and jobs may come a distant 
second to the "high" you get from drugs, he observed.

He said more times than not, people who are addicted to drugs commit 
other crimes to get money to support their addiction, including vehicle theft.

"A lot of the time crack cocaine addicts try to get any amount of 
money or tools to sell to get more drugs."

More and more dealers will take stolen items on par.

"If someone wants a 20 piece (0.2 grams worth $20) of crack cocaine 
they might take a cordless drill. Then the dealers will sell the 
drill to a pawn shop," the officer explained.

With the larger marijuana operations of organized crime, he said, 
They will trade a pound of marijuana to the United States for a pound 
of cocaine."

There is no money exchanged. The main reason for this, he said, is 
the light sentences imposed for growing marijuana in Canada.

"A lot of people are growing marijuana here and bringing it Stateside 
because they know in the States, if you grow 100 to 1,000 plants, 
you're going to get years in jail, where in Canada, people get 
suspended sentences or conditional discharges."

Do residents in Cobourg and Port Hope have to worry about their 
safety because of addicts on the street?

Having an officer with the KCFDU helps, but it's almost a sure thing 
when you get a rash of break-ins to vehicles and businesses for small 
amounts of cash, it is drug related, the officer said.

But, he strongly advises people who might get the notion to make a 
quick few bucks having an indoor grow or planting a "crop" mixed in a 
farmer's corn crop, to think again.

If the judicial system doesn't scare them, people known as "rippers" might.

Det. Constable Powell said "rippers" are people that do home 
invasions for other people's pot and it's not just large-scale 
operations that are affected. Det. Constable Powell said he has seen 
home invasions for only 15 marijuana plants. But 15 plants is equal 
to approximately $15,000 because the potential is there for six 
ounces of pot from each plant.

"So they are coming in with bats or guns to steal the marijuana just 
like the large grows."

Just over one year ago, Det. Constable Powell found out first-hand 
how dangerous being an undercover cop can be. It is a day that will 
forever stand out in his mind.

On October 5, 2005, members of the KCFDU were conducting surveillance 
on a property getting ready to execute a search warrant.

"It was a place where the accused was known to be harvesting 
marijuana in a outdoor grow operation."

The accused spotted the police and the result was a police chase 
where the suspect hit Det. Constable Powell's vehicle head-on, 
knocking him unconscious. Shots were fired during the pursuit.

A massive search from the OPP tactical unit and helicopter was 
conducted around the area where the suspect ditched his vehicle. He 
was apprehended days later and sentenced to five years behind bars.

Last month, in a very serious incident near Minden, Det. Constable 
Powell, along with two other officers, arrested 10 suspects in a 
large outdoor grow operation. It was during the "harvest time" for marijuana.

Because of the type of sentences imposed by courts, police don't have 
the resources to conduct surveillance on each marijuana grow, so they 
just seize and destroy the pot.

Three officers went in the bush to seize approximately 50 marijuana 
plants while two officers stayed by their vehicles.

"We took the plants and put them in our truck when we noticed another 
vehicle full of harvested marijuana."

One suspect noticed the police dressed in fatigues and fled.

"We followed him into an area where there had to be 15 to 20 suspects 
and they all dispersed," said Det. Constable Powell.

"Subsequent to that, I noticed a loaded handgun and a bullet-proof 
vest in one of the vehicles that the suspects fled from."

Wherever there is one loaded gun, police know there is a likelihood of more.

"We ended up arresting a few of them there and five more tried to 
escape in a boat.

I believe four or five of them had bullet-proof vests."

Although vastly outnumbered, the three officers ended up arresting 10 
suspects at the scene and a number of other suspects were later arrested.

The end result was the seizure of $20- million dollars worth of 
marijuana, in addition to a firearms and bullet-proof vests.

After 17 months in the front lines of the war on drugs, Det. 
Constable Powell speculated on whether it's worth the effort and the 
danger. He said, in the community of Port Hope, police are letting 
the drug dealer know police are going to do something about drug use.

"I feel in that sense we are, but I feel as soon as (we) knock off 
one drug dealer, there is always another one popping up." The biggest 
deterrence, he said, must come from the judicial system.

"If (Americans) get caught with an ounce of cocaine, (they) are going 
to do five years minimum, he said.

It comes down to our court system. So after 17 months of dangerous 
work, where he has been outnumbered and knocked unconscious, why does he do it?

"I've seen drugs wreck a lot of families. I don't agree with drugs, 
whether it be marijuana right up to the hardest drugs. I'm trying to 
do it simply to keep our community safe."
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