DRUG SWEEP SCRATCHED THE SURFACE, SAY COPS
Law & Order
A massive drug sweep that netted dozens of Orillia-area residents this week has only scratched the surface of a growing problem facing communities across the region, police warn.
"The demand is huge," said OPP Det. Supt. Frank Elbers. "There is no doubt this could be the tip of the iceberg."
A hundred heavily-armed officers descended on 10 homes and one business early Wednesday morning, arresting and charging 28 people with a variety of drug-related offenses, and seizing pot, cocaine, pills, and weapons.
OPP cruisers shuttled suspects to the downtown detachment for fingerprinting and photographs inside a mobile command unit, temporarily stationed on the front lawn.
The majority of search warrants were executed in Orillia - including two addresses located a short walk from the Peter Street police station - though homes in Angus, Oro-Medonte, Kawartha Lakes, Washago, and Lagoon City were also raided.
"What is occurring in this community is occurring within other communities in the area," Elbers told reporters during a press conference at OPP Headquarters.
Undercover officers involved in the joint-forces investigation purchased a variety of illegal drugs from the individuals arrested in the recent sweep, authorities said. Among the items seized were a kilogram of marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy, oxycotin, a cocaine press, $5,000 in cash, three unregistered long guns, one prohibited weapon, and a hand-held cross bow.
Officers arriving at some of the homes raided this week smashed in the front doors with battering rams.
"An element of surprise is always nice to have," said an undercover officer who could not be named.
The arrests stemmed from a 15-month investigation that focused on the sale and distribution of cocaine, crack cocaine, Ecstacy, and methamphetamine, a highly-addictive stimulant that has wrought a path of destruction in communities across Canada and the U.S.
The emergence of meth "obviously raised our eyebrows," Elbers said of the drug's appearance in recent busts.
"Is it a disturbing sign?" he added. "It certainly is."
Project LTC was initiated in the fall of 2005 to combat the growing presence of crack cocaine and the recent spike in drug-related crime.
While initially focusing on street-level dealers, the investigation was soon expanded to target suppliers.
In total, police have arrested and charged 45 suspects and seized drugs valued at roughly $60,000.
More than $50,000 in cash has also been confiscated.
Police forces involved in the lengthy investigation included Ontario's drug enforcement section, the Orillia OPP Detachment, Central Region OPP, and Mnjikaning Police Service.
"This outstanding investigation will have an impact on the illegal drug trade and the violent crime associated with it in this area," said Commissioner Julian Fantino.
Police noted that communities outside the Greater Toronto Area are becoming increasingly popular with marijuana farmers attracted by cheap land and the anonymity of rural living.
Where once growers favoured indoor operations for the higher-quality product they yielded, advances in cultivation techniques have allowed producers to raise their plants outdoors with equal success and in greater quantities.
The vast majority of pot grown in Ontario is exported to the U.S., often in exchange for cocaine, Elbers said.
"We are talking about a multi-billion dollar business," he added.
More arrests are expected in the near future, police said.
Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing