'Dramatic drop' in grow ops

Coquitlam's efforts to weed out the number of homes found to have high power consumption — usually associated with growing marijuana — are being credited with a drop in the number of grow ops in the city.

Responding to a freedom of information request by The Tri-City News, the city recently released statistics for its Public Safety Inspection Team (PSIT) showing a dramatic drop in home searches over the past five years.

In 2007, the team — made up of fire and bylaw inspectors — searched 124 residences, revoking occupancy permits for 88 homes with grow ops.

The number of inspections rose to 166 in 2008 but, last year, inspectors knocked on doors of only 18 homes with high power usage.

Of the 18, PSIT found hazardous conditions (i.e., electrical, plumbing) in seven homes and revoked occupancy at just one.

PSIT leader Shawn Davidson, assistant chief with Coquitlam Fire and Rescue, said the city's 2007 Controlled Substances Property Bylaw, which allows police and municipal officials to enter a home and recover costs for inspection and dismantling grow ops, gave the PSIT the ability to do its job.

"We started to see the numbers drop because we got this deterrent," Davidson said. "The people that want to do the grow ops, they now know that we have this team and have found out that Coquitlam is probably not the best place to set up."

Davidson declined to comment on whether the bylaw PSIT are driving marijuana growers to other communities but Port Coquitlam and Pitt Meadows have reported similar success stories since introducing bylaws in 2007 that target the illegal enterprises, and launching their own inspection teams.

Here's how it works in Coquitlam:

About twice a year, PSIT requests information from BC Hydro — as permitted under B.C.'s Safety Standards Act — on homes with power consumption more than 93 kilowatt-hours per day.

Several factors then come into play before an inspection is made, Davidson said, including logging of ongoing complaints by neighbours of noise or smells.

"We do an evaluation and a drive-by, and if we see there's anything that concerns us before we take action," he said.

If no grow op is found in a home flagged for excessive power consumption, "we'll still do an inspection to see why the [electrical] consumption is so high," Davidson said, noting the homeowner is not billed. "It's just a courtesy."

Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Ray Stanford, who heads the local detachment's five-member Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), said his officers only participate in PSIT searches to keep the peace and to ensure the safety of the inspectors — Mounties are not allowed on the property during an inspection.

As for the MET's numbers, Stanford also said grow ops have declined in the city over the past few years. Last year, MET dealt with 20 seizures, down from 30 in 2010.

Although the city said PSIT has been a success, it has drawn legal challenges.

In an email to The Tri-City News, city solicitor Heather Bradfield said, in the early years of the program, a number of lawsuits were brought against the city, "although these have now been concluded or have been dormant for quite some time."

"To date, none of the cases against the city have made their way to determination through the court process, and the city has not been subject to adverse findings by the court concerning the operations of the PSIT.‬‪"


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