HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Cops Declare War On Weed
Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jun 2002
Source: Chilliwack Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 Chilliwack Times
Author: Lisa Morry


Special task force formed as study discovers Chilliwack is number two
in B.C. for grow ops

The City of Chilliwack is runner-up for the marijuana grow op capital
of the province.

We're number two-according to a University College of the Fraser
Valley study to be released later this week.

That means there are an estimated 500 to 1,000 marijuana grow
operations in the community. About 80 per cent of those would be
indoors, mostly in rental houses but not always, while the rest would
be outdoors.

According to the study, Chilliwack is particularly vulnerable because
of its proximity to the border, its low land costs and its distance
from the urban centre. These grow ops are not mom and pop enterprises.
There are mostly run by people from outside of the country, often
people with extensive criminal records. There are links to organized
crime and gang activity and the potential for increased violence in
the community, including drive-by shootings, raids by drug
rivals-sometimes on the wrong home, and gang turf wars. The pot is
commonly traded for cocaine and other drugs.

"It confirms our worst fears," Mayor Clint Hames said.

While RCMP and city councillors were aware that there was a problem,
the results were so shocking that the city and the Mounties scheduled
a press conference to outline how they propose to deal with it. And
while the study has not been released to reporters, police and city
councillors did answer questions based on its findings.

The joint city and police response is to work on enforcement,
prevention and education, they said.

For the city's part, it proposes to fund four additional officers, at
about $80,000 each, next fiscal year. It has set up a committee to
study the issue and come up with solutions, such as bylaws that would
put more of an onus on landlords to monitor their tenants.

It will also petition the solicitor general for increased resources
since there is a disproportionate number of grow ops in this
community, and ask the solicitor general to look at effectiveness of
deterrents for grow operators.

"It seems B.C. is leading the nation on something it shouldn't be
leading the nation," Hames said. "I believe there is a direct linkage
between severity of sentence in incidence of occurrence."

The RCMP response is to assign those four officers to a dedicated
strike force that will focus only on grow ops. That will free up the
existing four-person drug squad to go back to street enforcement, a
job it has not been able to do of late because of the abundance of
grow ops, RCMP Inspector Bud Mercer said.

Mercer will also assign the six-person bike squad to focus on drugs
six months of the year and to focus on strategic targets for the other
six months. That brings drug enforcement to about 14 per cent of the
Chilliwack detachment, which is high, Mercer said. That doesn't
include uniformed officers who may also take down a grow op or work
with drug issues in other respects, he said.

Mercer is rearranging the plainclothes section and turning the
responsibility for grow ops over to Staff Sgt. Brent Bloxham. He is
also allocating more resources to the school DARE program, Block Watch
and a pamphlet that will tell residents how to spot a grow op.

The community is important in gathering information for a search
warrant, Bloxham said. It's not enough to see high electrical bills or
an illegal bypass or to have an infrared scan of a building showing
the heat from grow lights, complaints from neighbours are an important
part of the information, he said.

Coun. Sharon Gaetz, who will chair the public safety advisory
committee, along with co-chair, Coun. Chuck Stam, said she's concerned
for the safety of children. In many grow ops busted by police, there
are children present when the arrests are made. That means the
children are living in unsafe environments, with unsafe electricity,
sometimes with standing water, with humidity, high carbon dioxide
levels and chemicals.

Councillors and police said they're also concerned about fires and the
danger to volunteers who risk their lives fighting them. Grow op fires
are dangerous because of the electricity, the chemicals and the water.

"I shudder every time a house burns down that's a grow op because of
the extreme fire danger," Hames said.

There's also the inherent danger in some grow ops that are booby
trapped. Gaetz talked about one such operation that boasted two
Rottweillers and a gun rigged to the front door.

However, city councillors and police are determined to change the
statistics around, Gaetz said.

The message is, "If you're thinking about starting a grow op here in
Chilliwack, think something else," she said. 
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