It's time to crack down on grow ops

The escalating number of marijuana grow ops has brought with it the troubling side effect of a rapid rise in the number of criminal gangs. Gang violence has increased, as have the associated societal problems. Electricity thefts at the majority of these criminal enterprises engender serious safety hazards and a tremendous financial burden on law-abiding citizens.

What transpired in Mexico from the year 2000 through to what is today a narco-terrorist state is a particularly ominous harbinger as to where we could find ourselves five years hence. In 2000, BC had 6 organized criminal gangs fighting over a 1 billion dollar BC Bud industry. Over the following years our government has cut core service budgets. They have closed court rooms, reduced prosecutors and continued the systemic under funding of the ratio of the number of police to law abiding citizens. We now face 130+ criminal gangs, machine gunning each other and a growing number of innocent bystanders. This tragic bloodbath increases weekly, all for a piece of what is estimated to be a 10 billion dollar illicit cash crop. In 2000, BC had an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 clandestine home based grow ops. Today it is estimated that as many as 1 in 60 houses throughout BC and as many as 1 in 9 houses in the lower mainland are active grows ops. That is one house on each side of every block, of every street, in the lower mainland!

Grow ops are also extremely dangerous to have in a neighborhood. The illegal wiring that is installed for these grow ops presents both a greater chance of a fire plus extreme danger to our firefighters who are called upon to put these fires out. There is also the increased chance of violence from rival gangs ripping-off these grow ops, and with this comes an increase in the likelihood of loaded hand guns, rifles and shotguns being present in these houses. One such house located in Delta had its front door booby-trapped with cyanide gas in an effort to kill invading rivals gang members. Luckily for the police, in this instance the occupants deactivated the killing device prior to police executing a search warrant on the premises.

Grow ops are stealing electricity to the tune of approximately 15% of the total annual electricity being produced here in BC. During the last eight years, BC Hydro has been forced to transfer large sums of money to the BC government. This has forced BC Hydro to reduce maintenance on its infrastructure, which contributes to an increasing number of power interruptions and other service delivery problems. Theft of electricity also causes brownouts and power surges. This very significant amount of stolen electricity puts an added strain on the high voltage transformers resulting in a very serious hazard to BC Hydro employees servicing these devices. BC Hydro currently has a plan in place to increase their ability to identify locations where electricity is being stolen, however that plan is still years away from being implemented.

I believe there are two main approaches which can be implemented simultaneously to address this problem. The first is to directly confront the gangs who are fast becoming narco-terrorists. The second is to accelerate the planned steps to improve BC Hydro's infrastructure so that locating the sources of electricity thefts becomes a realistic possibility. Electricity theft could be eliminated with the deployment of remote meter reading technology. The implementation of the plan needs to be accelerated.

Sitting around chiding while our country slides closer and closer to becoming no better than a banana republic is not an option in my book.

Doug Stead