Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jun 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Thadeus Greenson


EPD Craigslist Ad Trolls Trimmers

The Eureka Police Department hopes its "reverse marketing" campaign 
will convince out-of-towners that Humboldt County isn't a good place 
to come look for marijuana trimming jobs.

Dozens of people scanning Craigslist to find work trimming marijuana 
got an unexpected reply this week: a stern letter from the Eureka 
Police Department.

EPD Chief Andy Mills said the idea for the sting stemmed from data 
collected on homeless people who, until May 2, were camping in the 
PalCo Marsh. Mills said he was surprised to learn that "a sizeable 
percentage" of those who came from out of the area were initially 
drawn to Humboldt County by the lure of trimming jobs. Local 
philanthropist Betty Chinn, who has dedicated decades of her life to 
caring for the area's homeless populations, also said she's noticed a 
large uptick in the number of young homeless people, travelers or 
transients who say they were drawn here by the promise of lucrative 
work in Humboldt County's illicit billion-dollar industry.

Scores of these would-be migrant workers have been sent back to the 
communities from which they came, through both the county's 
Transportation Assistance Program and Chinn's work, for which a 
handful of local business owners pony up for bus tickets to get 
stranded folks back to their communities of origin. But looking at 
the little bit of data available, Mills said it's clear Humboldt 
County has a problem with people traveling here for work they're 
ultimately unlikely to get, as most growers prefer to hire locals or 
people they know.

"I started thinking that maybe the better way would be to try to 
prevent them from coming in the first place," Mills said, adding that 
he started with a simple question: How do people know to come here 
for trim work?

After spending some time on Craigslist and other online classifieds, 
Mills said he found a host of advertisements both from trimmers 
looking for work and from growers looking for help. On May 20, Mills 
posted an ad himself that read, "need a few capable people to 
weed/garden/trim in Humboldt. smokers okay, must be functional. hard 
work but lots of fun. call and leave a message we'll get back within 
a week." Mills attached an EPD phone number to a voicemail set up for 
the sting. Within two days, he said he'd received 100 messages.

Mills then had someone within the department call the people back, 
asking that they send an email with a photo of themselves - "Send us 
a picture of yourself so we know you're not law enforcement" - and 
contact information. About 50 of the initial 100 responded with the 
additional information, including phone numbers from about 30 
different area codes, according to Mills, who added that some decided 
it was a good idea to submit selfies of themselves holding "sizeable 
quantities of marijuana."

The chief said he was initially uncertain what to do with the batch 
of eager trimmers. He didn't have enough probable cause to arrest 
most of them, as marijuana farm work exists under a haze of medical 
legality. Taking the sting a bit further and asking them to meet an 
undercover officer risked bringing folks to town only to strand them, 
exactly the scenario Mills was seeking to avoid.

Ultimately, Mills settled on a kind of reverse public relations ploy 
and on May 26 sent them all a note on EPD letterhead thanking them 
for responding to the ad.

"The information you provided is part of a conspiracy to cultivate 
marijuana investigation in Eureka," he wrote. "As you know, growing, 
cultivating, transporting or selling marijuana is still illegal under 
federal law and may be illegal under state law as well, depending on 
the circumstances. Eureka strongly discourages those who would desire 
to travel here for the purpose of trimming marijuana. Most of the 
grows are illegal and destroy our environment, drain our rivers and 
victimize our citizens. It is important you do not come to Eureka for 
this purpose or any other illegal purpose."

The letter warned that trimmers locally have been assaulted, 
murdered, forced to work in the nude, serve as sex slaves or become 
ensnared with transnational drug cartels. "Many trimmers have been 
cheated of their pay and as a result, become stranded in Eureka," 
continues the letter, which is complete with hyperlinks to news 
accounts of ills that have befallen local trimmers.

Finally, the letter concludes: "Come enjoy Eureka for its fabulous 
people, great restaurants and amazing scenery. We have much to offer. 
If you come to commit this or any other crime, we are paying 
attention. EPD continues this investigation. To improve Eureka, 
Andrew Mills, Chief of Police."

Response to the letter has been varied, Mills said. A few people 
cussed him out. Others pleaded that they were only looking for work. 
Some professed gratitude. "I am sorry," read one note Mills forwarded 
along to the Journal. "I will never pursue this thought again. Thank 
you for protecting me."

Mills said he's willing to bet that each of the 50 people who 
received the letter have talked about it in their social circles, 
spreading word that Humboldt County might not be as trimmer friendly 
as its reputation suggests and advising caution about who might be on 
the posting end of online classified ads. Meanwhile, the chief said, 
"I'm still getting emails."

Pleased with the sting, Mills said it's one that his officers will 
look to replicate on other online platforms and even in other areas, 
as time permits.

"We'll continue to reverse market this as a place to be for 
transients looking for illegal jobs," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom