Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2007
Source: Langley Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Langley Times
Author: Monique Tamminga


On average, the Township's Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT) is
finding evidence of eight marijuana grow operations per week.

"Last week we busted this one property where the landlord was getting
$1,800 cash for a house he was renting. The [pot] growers were making
$15,000 to $20,000 a week for the crop, and that was considered a
small grow-op," said assistant fire chief Len Foss.

The PSIT, which has been operating as a pilot project, was given a
two-year extension by Township council on Oct. 15 in a closed meeting.

Discussion about the program wasn't made public.

The team, made up of a fire inspector, two RCMP officers, an
electrical advisor, and bylaw inspector investigates premises where
excessive use of electricity has been found by B.C. Hydro.

The team shuts down power sources that pose a danger.

"We don't want marijuana producers in Langley," said fire chief Doug
Wade. "The PIST is making the community safer and has had the added
benefit of making it more difficult for them to do business. It's
working well."

Not everyone thinks it's working well. Two Langley landlords called
The Times, after they were stuck with bills of more than $5,000 each
from the inspection team. (One family was featured in the Oct. 17
edition of The Times.)

Both landlords said the team found no plants but did find evidence a
grow-op existed. In the meantime, they have to pay for rewiring and
other repairs to obtain a re-occupancy permit. The actual criminals go
free because arrests can't be made. The intention of the inspection
team isn't to pursue criminal charges but shut growers down and make
homes safe again, said Murrayville fire hall chief Rob Clause, who is
part of the team.

One landlord, who doesn't want to be named, said he checked on his
tenant regularly but didn't check on the garage where the grow-op was
believed to be.

Since then the team has shut off his water. He's on a

The family featured in The Times Oct. 17 was out of pocket $10,000
after the team came in and found grow equipment in the crawl space of
their small mobile home they rented out. The tenant, a single mother
of a toddler, came with references.

The PSIT started in June and has done more than 120 inspections which
yielded evidence of grow-ops. In the same time frame, from June to
September, the Langley RCMP - who work within the Criminal Code
framework - took down only 16 grow-ops, Wade said.

Similar programs exist in Surrey and Abbotsford.

The team receives data from B.C. Hydro about homes that are using more
than three times the normal amount of power. They also receive tips
from the community, and have set up a hotline at 604-532-7527. Acting
on the information received, the team does background checks on the
reported premises and the people within them, conducts drive-bys, and
determines if an on-site check is necessary.

At times, the extra consumption can be attributed to commercial
operations and easily eliminated from their serach, said the team.

If the high electricity can't be explained, a notice is posted on the
property, stating that a home inspection will be conducted in 24 hours.

The next day, the team goes in to see what is causing the excessive
use of power - and in many cases a grow-op is or has been recently

The team uses a non-criminal approach to shutting the operations down.
It doesn't require warrants, but acts under the authority of the
Community Charter, the Fire Services Act, and Township bylaws.

While those caught with grow-ops aren't prosecuted, homes found to be
dangerous will have their power disconnected.

Landlords pay to get reconnected.

"There is a substantial fee, as we operate on a cost recovery basis,"
said Wade. "We are ensuring that our citizens and taxpayers do not
bear the brunt of this illegal activity."

Fees of $3,700 are issued to cover the inspections, and when the price
of the repairs, building permits, and electrical permits that are
required to put the building back to livable standards are factored
in, violators face several thousand dollars worth of costs, Wade said.
In some cases, homes are declared unfit for occupation.

"The police are very, very supportive of this," he

"After these inspections, 95 per cent of those caught with a grow-op
move out all their equipment and plants, removing the hazard from the

Landlords who report suspicious tenants will not be charged the
$3,700 investigation fee, said Wade.
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