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Cops Blame Cops For Blowing Bust

By Hempology | January 15, 2007

Neighbours are angry and the RCMP are apologetic, but it was a series of unfortunate happenstances that allowed the purveyors of a Pitt Meadows pot house to get off with a moving truck full of bud.

Residents of Cedar Lane had known there was something fishy going on inside the house for months. Since the summer, many had been taking note of the various cars that would arrive – they’d jot down licence plate numbers and call them in to local police.

But on Monday, the neighbours got riled when they watched a moving truck back up to the home, and bags of goods began to disappear into it. Various neighbours called police, but none arrived.

Eventually, when it appeared police were not en-route, an off-duty Coquitlam RCMP officer approached the house, went onto the property and accused one of the men of having a grow operation.

That officer then took photos of what he saw, and of one of the people he spoke with, with his cellphone camera.

The moment he stepped onto the property, said Ridge Meadows drug section head Cpl. John McDougall, was the minute the investigation was compromised.

According to McDougall, Ridge Meadows police were days away from getting a search warrant for the property. He admits that, by that time, the pot would have been harvested, but there is a procedure to follow, he said, and the Coquitlam officer, he added, broke the rules.

“The steps are all lined up for us to go in,” he told the TIMES.

The minute the off-duty officer set foot on the property he violated the law prohibiting police from stepping onto the property without a search warrant.

“If he got an admission from the kids saying ‘yeah, we have a grow’ all that is not admissible in court,” McDougall explained.

“There’s a violation of the Canadian Charter Rights,” he said. “We’ve got to play everything above the law.

As for why the RCMP didn’t respond immediately to the call on Cedar Lane, McDougall said it was just a matter of priorities.

There were 12 marked police cars on the road when the call came in on Monday and all 12 were tied up with other calls.

And even if they had arrived at the home, McDougall said, there’s nothing illegal about a moving truck driving away from a home.

“It’s just too bad the young officer showed up,” McDougall said, adding that his appearance at the home may have been the result of “peer pressure or of public pressure,” or “the act of just doing the right thing.”

Whatever the case, McDougall said, “we’re police officers 24/7, not the minute you hang up your gun belt.”

Despite the fact McDougall has since met with the neighbours, they’re still frustrated that it took so long for this grow operation to catch the attention of the local detachment.

“It just blows me away, though, that they didn’t respond when four guys were there, packing up. They were packing up for about 15 minutes,” an angry neighbour told The TIMES.

“It’s been going on since June and they’re just starting their investigation,” the neighbour continued. “Something’s haywire.”

Sadly, however, McDougall said that’s just par for the course in Ridge Meadows.

Through 2006, the detachment’s six-member drug unit fielded calls of an estimated 700 separate grow ops within Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Getting to all of those grows in a timely fashion, said McDougall, is near impossible.

“We do appreciate all of those people who phone in,” he said, adding that he “doesn’t want to discourage those people.”

The local officer said that he “feels sorry,” that the neighbours are so upset, and he understands their frustration, but police have to focus on the operations that have the best chance of leading to charges and standing up in court.

They can’t just bust in on a home willy-nilly without proper warrants.

As frustrating as it can be for residents whose only concern is getting the marijuana out of their neighbourhoods, there is a right way of doing things, McDougall said.

“Even though they’re the bad guys they have Canadian Charter Rights. Those rights protect everyone in Canada. I believe in Canadian rights. I can’t be a hypocrite,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ridge Meadows detachment has not closed the file. Pitt Meadows bylaw officers will go in to the house to investigate the electrical system, and, depending on what they find, police may be able to pursue other charges, including theft of hydro.

“We’re not done with the file, but you’ve got to take the right steps,” McDougall said.

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