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'The Bud Stops Here,' - Inspection Team

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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 well.

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 active.

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 added.

"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 neighbourhood."

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

Source: Langley Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Langley Times
Contact: newsroom@langleytimes.com
Website: Langley Times - Your Best source for Local Community News delivered in print or online
 
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