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Marijuana crops alarm drug cops

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With organized criminals setting up ever-larger marijuana grow ops in
Calgary and police devoting more officers to finding them, investigators are
predicting 2004 will be another record year for pot seizures in the city.

By the end of 2003, city police had seized more than $50 million of
illegally grown dope resulting from more than 100 search warrants.

Those record numbers, however, represent only a fraction of the dope being
grown in the city and police officials say the total would have been far
higher if investigators had been able to act on a greater number of tips.

The formation of a new, joint-forces marijuana unit with the RCMP toward the
end of last year has police poised to top 2003's record.

"I expect at the present rate, we'll exceed that -- no doubt," Det. Chris
Fileccia of the Calgary police drug unit said in a recent interview.

"We didn't have the manpower we do now," said Fileccia.

Indeed, 2003 didn't start on a record pace.

During the first three months of last year, police seized approximately $7
million in marijuana.

The pace quickened during the latter part of the year as the Calgary police
added more members to its Green Team, though for intelligence reasons
officials are reluctant to discuss precisely how many officers are assigned
to marijuana investigations.

Police also credit the public for providing them with an increasing number
of tips, saying people are becoming fed up with criminals setting up shop in
their neighbourhoods.

Marijuana is a lucrative business, and grow ops have become an attractive
target for thieves looking to make quick money at the expense of other

People are becoming fearful they could get caught in the middle of a violent
drug ripoff, Fileccia said.

"My fear, and the public's fear, should be these guys go knocking on the
wrong door and your family's sitting there," he said.

Criminals are also doing their part to drive the numbers higher, setting up
increasingly large and elaborate operations that sometimes fill whole

Evidence of that was seen on Dec. 30, when investigators found 2,100 plants
worth more than $3 million in a rented home in the city's northwest. Police
believe it was the biggest haul from a home-based grow in the city's

Fileccia estimated about 95 per cent of the operations dismantled by police
employed electrical bypasses designed to conceal the huge amount of power
consumed by lights used to help the marijuana grow.

And, while not nearly as common, some criminals are now also stealing water
by installing their own piping designed to bypass a home's water meter.

"The phenomenon of grow ops a few years ago was seen as more of a
mom-and-pop operation. The situation now is these are wholesale commercial
operations with electrical bypasses and a much more sophisticated approach
toward growing the cannabis. It's big dollars," said Insp. Ian Cameron,
director of the Criminal Intelligence Service Alberta.

CISA, which collects intelligence on organized crime and co-ordinates
enforcement efforts among Alberta's policing agencies, is putting the
finishing touches on a classified analysis of the illegal marijuana trade
that will be distributed to investigators throughout the province.

"The strategic product that will come out of there will be looking at the
wider issue -- the provincial aspect and how we're tied in
interprovincially, especially with B.C.," Cameron said.

"There is a strong connection between B.C. grow ops and British Columbia
organized crime groups and Alberta grow ops."

And while the criminals pass back and forth between provinces, CISA says
much of their product makes its way across the border into the U.S.

Police have to look beyond jurisdictional boundaries and share resources and
intelligence, because that's precisely what the criminals are doing, said
one law enforcement expert.

"That's the only way you can combat this type of large grow operation," said
Doug King, chairman of justice studies at Mount Royal College.

Pubdate: Sunday, January 11, 2004
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Contact: letters@theherald.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/calgary/calgaryherald/
Author: Jason van Rassel