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Project Longarm tackles drug trafficking in the Quinte region

By Renée Rodgers

A City of Belleville worker is among the latest to be charged with a drug related offence through Project Longarm.

Officers found five pounds of marijuana, with a projected street value of $12,500, between the two vehicles and an address in Tweed that was later searched. Two men were charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

The charges were among many that have resulted from the investigations of the Project Longarm team, said Sgt. Beth Harder, a spokesperson for the Belleville Police.

Project Longarm began in 2001 as a joint effort by Belleville Police and Quinte West OPP to reduce the amount of drugs being trafficked across the Quinte region.

At that time, police in Belleville and Trenton recognized the problem with drugs went beyond jurisdictional confines. So they started working together on drug enforcement and the project quickly expanded to include OPP detachments in Bancroft, Madoc, and Picton.

“Drug dealers have no boundaries,” said Det. Insp. Mike Graham of the Belleville Police, one of the overseers of the project. “We found the people that were selling drugs in the Belleville area were also selling drugs in the Picton area, and were also selling drugs in the Trenton area and the Madoc area. So we decided to form a joint operation.”

The project is aimed at all illegal drugs in the area as well as all aspects of the drug trade. Officers are concerned with drug possession, drug production, drug trafficking and organized crime connected to drugs.

Officers from each detachment involved are assigned to work on the project full-time. The detachments collaborate on all investigations.

Det. Insp. Ian Grant of the OPP, who is in charge of organized crime enforcement for Eastern Ontario, said community partnerships are a key element to Project Longarm’s success. Much of the information that leads to drug busts is gathered from concerned citizens within the area.

“You just talk to people,” he said. “Sure, there are people that use drugs and support the distribution of drugs and don’t see it as a big issue. There are also many, many, many people who see drugs as a problem, and addictions as a problem, whether it’s alcohol or drugs. The bottom line is communities try to look after themselves.”

Grant said residents are the best resource for information on what is happening within a community.

“There are many people out there who see what’s going on,” he said. “If they’re willing to talk to us and say ‘Hey, at two o’clock in the afternoon, I saw this car with this license plate show up and do this’, then we can have something to go on to try to track it down.”

Officers report the information they gather back to each other and their supervisors. Grant said there is constant communication and comparing of notes between the team members.

When a problem is identified, officers gather as much information as they can about who is providing the drugs, where the person came from, and where they get their supply. When police have enough information, they get a search warrant in an effort to seize the supply and lay charges.

The project has led to some major takedowns, said Sgt. Kristine Rae, a spokesperson for the OPP Eastern region. Officers have made drug busts in the local area, across Canada, and into the United States.

Since the initiative began, around 1,400 drug-related charges have been laid against almost 400 people. Police have also seized more than 240,000 marijuana plants with a projected street value of $240 million through the initiative.

It’s hard to tell exactly how successful the program has been since it started 10 years ago, said Rae. Since there is no way to know the exact amount of drugs in the area, it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of drugs that have been removed from the street through the project.

Graham estimates, however, the amount of drugs police seize isn’t even close to half of what’s out there. While police are doing what they can to get dealers off the street, it’s impossible to nab them all.

“For every drug dealer we take down, one pops up and takes his place,” he said.

While Graham said the project hasn’t led to the removal of every illegal drug from the area, police involved will continue doing what they have been doing to keep the problem in check.

“We’re just going to keep forging ahead,” said Graham.

Rae had similar views.

“All we know is it’s out there,” she said. “We’re focusing on it, and we’re doing our darn best to get it removed.”