RCMP in the Kelowna area seized more marijuana plants than any other detachment in the province over the last year, illustrating a trend of growing operations migrating away from big cities, authorities say.
Richmond came in tenth in the province with 4,527 plants between April 2011 and March 2012.
An RCMP database listing growing operations shows Kelowna officers seized 13,706 plants between April 2011 and March 2012. Surrey RCMP came in a close second, seizing 13,389 plants over the same period. When combined with the nearby communities of West Kelowna and Lake County, however, the Kelowna figure rises to 26,926 plants seized.
"There's certainly a distinct trend that's happening ... for grow operations to migrate towards areas that are more rural in nature, that haven't necessarily developed the bylaws or abilities to combat them as effectively as, say, the larger centres have," said Kelowna RCMP Const. Kris Clark.
Kelowna RCMP have made some significant seizures in recent months that have bumped up their numbers, Clark said. In February of this year, they made two seizures of 3,575 plants and 5,539 plants within three days of each other.
The biggest seizure over the last year occurred in Falkland, a community of about 600 along Highway 97 between Kamloops and Vernon, where RCMP seized 13,383 marijuana plants - almost as many as were seized in Surrey over the entire year - on March 21.
RCMP in Surrey, however, conducted the most individual raids of any detachment in the province, uncovering 21 growing operations and one residence containing methamphetamines.
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said the municipality's aggressive push to stamp out growing operations, through both police enforcement and the city's electrical fire safety initiative, has resulted in an 81.6-per-cent reduction in the number of confirmed growing operations identified between 2007 and 2011.
Under the fire safety initiative, enforcement teams are able to conduct safety inspections of premises using abnormally high amounts of electricity or flagged as suspicious by the public.
"Our objective is to clearly make Surrey not a desirable place to set up a grow op because of the safety issues associated with it," Garis said. "In some cases, the problem moves to other communities that aren't paying as much attention to this particular problem."
The database refers only to B.C. communities policed by the RCMP and does not include cities with their own municipal forces such as Vancouver, New Westminster, Delta, Abbotsford, Victoria and Saanich.
There were 13 dismantled or reported growing operations in Vancouver in 2011 and three so far this year, Vancouver police Const. Lindsey Houghton said in a statement, noting this is down from 81 in 2009 and 455 in 2001.
Houghton credits the drop in part to the fact that people live so close together and partly to Vancouver's aggressive use of property forfeiture when growing operations are discovered. He was not able to provide the number of plants seized by Vancouver police over the last year.
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Factbar: Top 10 municipalities, by number of plants seized, April 2011 - March 2012
Kelowna (13,706 plants)
Surrey (13,389 plants)
Falkland (13,383 plants)
Prince George (11,176 plants)
Maple Ridge (9,207 plants)
100 Mile House (8,844 plants)
Lake Country (8,042 plants + 8,288 grams)
Pitt Meadows (6,211 plants)
West Kelowna (5,178 plants)
Richmond (4,527 plants)
*Only includes communities policed by RCMP
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