Sunday, 28 November 2010

Who Really Benefits from Operation Entity?

Victoria's largest drug raid - Operation Entity
The ferocity of large scale drug raids is awe inspiring for much of the public. Just look at the latest raid in Victoria - Operation Entity. It involved 630 people from the Drug Task Force, Criminal Proceeds Squad, Crime Department, Operations Response Unit, Regional Response Units, Australian Federal Police, local police, officials from the taxation department and even immigration officers . It has been described as the biggest drug raid in Victoria’s history. The raids were carried out on 115 different premises in Albanvale, Altona Meadows, Avondale Heights, Ballarat, Berwick, Burnside, Burnside Heights, Cairnlea, Caroline Springs, Dandenong, Dandenong North, Derrimut, Elphinstone, Footscray, Footscray West, Geelong, Hallam, Hampton Park, Hillside, Hopper’s Crossing, Horsham, Kings Park, Learmouth, Oakleigh East, Melton, Melton South, Narre Warren South, Noble Park, Noble Park North, Springvale, Springvale South, St Albans, Stawell, Tarneit, Taylor’s Hill, Tyrendarra, Warrnambool and Wyndham Vale. So far, 93 people have been arrested. So what was this raid about? 


Yes, pot was the target with 13,893 cannabis plants being seized. For the million plus cannabis smokers in Australia, this must make their heads spin … and not from the pot. How do the police rationalise the massive resources put into this raid? Imagine if they targeted human slaves forced into prostitution or violent gangs. The amount of resources used in this pot raid might have actually reduced more serious crimes to the point of extinction. The sheer numbers of police involved could almost wipe out complete crime categories in Victoria. What it didn’t do, is have any real effect on the drug trade. They could repeat this raid in every Australian state, every month without ever making any serious dent in the drug trade. It must be disturbing for rational thinking people to watch these huge drug raids especially when they know the police are well aware the void will be filled in just a matter of days. It’s even more disturbing when the police admit it.

We all know that once we take out syndicates of this sort, other people will step in to fill the vacuum and our job is to make this as hard for them as possible.

With the current focus on designer drugs and clandestine laboratories, it came as a surprise that cannabis was the main target. Amassing such huge resources - paid for by the public purse - is largely considered wasteful for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol. With rapidly changing attitudes and the growing evidence that cannabis only affects a tiny percentage of the population, the police are having to turn up the rhetoric to defend their actions.

Perhaps the greatest scourge in our community is the vile traffic in illicit drugs - lives and neighbourhoods are destroyed while those who profit from this trade like to think their involvement goes on unnoticed. I say, think again.

Predictably, the key word used by police when facing the media was ‘drugs’ not ‘cannabis’. It’s much easier to sell ‘drug busts’ than ‘cannabis raids’ when the eyes and ears of the nation are fixed on you. But inevitably, when forced to reveal that the raids were just for pot, some sinister description like ‘high-potency’ was added. Why do the police have to resort to using the term ‘drugs’ when they talk about cannabis? The answer is simple. They know that a large percentage of the public are sceptical about the official government position on cannabis. The reality is that there are millions of users Australia wide and most of them have never had a problem. Add to this, the major concern of cannabis use - mental health disorders -  has most scientists finally concluding from years of research that moderate use will not greatly harm anyone with the exception of young people under 21 years old and those with a family history of mental health illness. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the anti-pot brigade to put their case forward when the public, driven by scientific data, are rejecting their message as out-of-date, misleading and driven by an ulterior agenda.

The Event
The planning and resources used to carry out these raids is simply mind blowing. As we so often reminded, Operation Entity is the biggest event ever undertaken by the Victorian police. 630 people were needed to enact the searches with a massive level of support involved in the planning. 

The Operations Response Unit and the Victoria Police Crime Department led the charge with 410 officers executing warrants and searching premises. 12 teams of crime scene investigators then moved in and recorded the scene and collected evidence. 

The crime scene investigators conduct examination, enhancement and comparison of shoe, tyre and tool impressions, photography and/or video recording of crime scenes attended.

Police had to utilise the whole Transport Branch to get officers to the raids and the Central Property Management Unit had to altered their structure just to store all the evidence. They also had to arranged for 15 interpreters, 4 botanists and the Central Metropolitan Fingerprint Unit completed almost a year’s work in one day. Police hired 30 trucks on the day just to transport evidence, seized cannabis plants and equipment.

Here’s the list of the special police departments and other organisations involved:

Drug Task Force, 
Criminal Proceeds Squad, 
Crime Department, 
Operations Response Unit, 
Botany Branch – Forensics
Central Metropolitan Fingerprint Unit
Crime Scene Examination Unit
Transport Branch
Central Property Management Unit
Regional Response Units, 
Local police, 
Australian Federal Police, 
Office of Public Prosecutions
State Revenue Office
Australian Taxation Office
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Australian Crime Commission
Various power companies

The Result
According to Victoria Police, the result was a huge success. 93 arrests with more to come, 13,893 seized cannabis plants so far and the shut down of several organised drug syndicates. But how do they measure ‘success’? Was the success of Operation Entity worth the massive resources and planning? Those arrested were involved in criminal activities and the police have a duty to uphold the law. Growing industrial quantities of cannabis is a serious offence in Australia and the police acted accordingly by arresting them. But the big concern is the priority of Operation Entity and why wasn’t repugnant crime like forced prostitution, child pornography or violent street activity given the same treatment? What about organised extortion, the illegal gun trade and the gangs that terrorise our suburbs? These are insidious crimes that wreck lives and demean our society. Crimes against people will never be tolerated by the community and deserve a lot more focus from our law enforcers. Catching dope growers just doesn’t have the same urgency. 

One unspoken fact our law enforcement officers and law makers rarely mention is that no state in Australia has ever succeeded in dismantling the drug trade especially in relation to cannabis. Dope is so simple to grow, has an endless clientele and the profits are astronomical. The people who are happiest with Operation Entity are other growers and competing criminal organisations. There is a never ending list of potential growers to fill any void created by drug raids. The tougher the police are on cannabis, the more the price increases so growers will fight even harder for market share. This breeds violence and creates opportunities for organised crime to flourish. Cash is king in the criminal world and drugs offer an unlimited supply. I recall Chopper Reed telling us all that gone are the days of specialist crooks like safe crackers and bank robbers. Instead, he explains, that about 90% of all criminals are now involved in the drug trade. But it’s not just Australian states that have failed. Not even one single country has succeeded in making a dent in the drug market. This brings us to another unspoken fact from our law enforcement officers and law makers. Those countries with tough drug laws often have less success than nations with more liberal laws. In other words, being "Tough on Drugs" doesn’t usually lead to less drug use or a reduced drug supply. It can only be described as extraordinary why our politicians and police remain vigilant in their commitment to repeating the same mistakes every year. But it’s simply beyond words why they would push this approach even further.

The Hype
The Victoria Police website has posted seven news items about Operation Entity from November 23 to November 26. The media has responded by publishing an article about each post on a daily basis. It’s in our newspapers, on TV and updated online. We all know about it. But what is the message from Operation Entity? What has actually been achieved? The fact is we have seen these raids dozens of times before but the supply of cannabis remains in abundance. 

Today we have demonstrated that in protecting the community we will do all we can to stand between you and those who seek to exploit and prey upon you.'

The police keep telling us that without this operation, we are at the mercy of evil people who prey on our youth and exploit the community. We are told that these criminals make huge profits, derived from our misery, weakness and reliance on illicit drugs. What they don’t tell us is that most cannabis users get great pleasure from these evil wares and only purchase their stash from those arrested growers because there is no alternative … except becoming a grower themselves. There is also no mention of how the average pot smoker is now going to source their supply. Although most pot smokers aren’t compelled to keep a permanent supply, many will eventually start seeking out a new dealer. A lack of cannabis may also force some users to turn to harder drugs. This demand will drive new entrants into the marketplace as Operation Entity just fades into history.

It seems somewhat hypocritical that a much more harmful drug like alcohol is fully acceptable but a safer alternative is frowned upon. But it’s not just frowned upon, it’s actually illegal to the point where massive police raids like Operation Entity are rolled out. The dichotomy between medical experts and law enforcement on the topic of cannabis is staggering considering it’s 2010. It’s a real challenge to applaud the police when their message is so convoluted and contradictory.

This week's historic raids have struck a significant blow to organised drug syndicates across the state and have been an unprecedented success.

Reading through the dozens of articles about Operation Entity, I notice the police keep reassuring us that those nasty criminal organisations have been defeated and the lasting affects of the raids have made our communities safer. Sure, there’s talk of the need for ongoing operations but the message is clear - the crims have lost and the police have won. 

Disrupting networks of this sort is significant
Those involved will be brought to justice and their ill-gotten gains will be seized

Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones revealed that during the two year investigation, an estimated $400 million had already been generated by the various drug syndicates. Oddly enough, he boasted that the police had seized $20 million in assets. That leaves a whopping $380 million shortfall which must surely raise some concern for those willing to do the sums.

Victoria Police were following the money trail. This has been very, very successful for us. We'll continue not only to seize the drugs, but we'll continue to seize assets throughout the day and later on in the week we'll apply to the courts for seizure of quite a number of assets across the whole state.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Operation Entity along with some remarkable comments. Being Victoria’s single largest police operation, it was bound to make headlines and it was inevitable that the authorities would trumpet it’s success. But this celebration of successful policing felt empty and forced. There was no moral victory or a clear cut feeling that we had fought and beaten something hideous. The rhetoric was thick with patronising messages that we had to be protected from nasty drug manufacturers and even ourselves. But in the end, we got the best of the police PR department, desperately trying to convince us that we needed Operation Entity as much as they wanted it.

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Gledwood said...

I'm getting more and more pissed off by that term "Drugs" even though I have been guilty of using it myself. If you mean hashish, say hashish, if you mean herbal, say that. Say speed, crystal meth, coke, crack, heroin, ecstasy, 2-CT-7, meow/mepherdrone.... whatever. Be straight. But the drugs world is anything but straight, no matter what side of the fence you're stuck on

Terry Wright said...

Spot on Gleds!

Anonymous said...

Terry, you know why they dont target illegal/underage/prostituion in these massive raids? And you know why so many departments had their finger in the pie?

Asset forfeiture laws.

They spent a million, but they busted over 60 houses. 60x~500,000 (average a house) == many millions in return. and if u arnt part of the party, you aint getting your CUT!

Anonymous said...

I like how they gloss over the facts in the case.

1. Asian crime gangs are using illegal immigrants/forced labour to cultivate Cannabis (in Australia, UK and others) This is NOT an isolated incident, and they did not dismatle the syndicate, only one of the Australia chapters.
2. The profits drive their business. Without prohibition, profits wouldnt exist. Government policy allows these gangs to infiltrate our society.
4. Cannabis supply was not dented at all. This was low grade industrial Cannabis being produced for the mass market. Like mexican shwag, they can burn tones of the stuff and no one will even notice.

Anonymous said...

November was 'dob in a drug dealer' month in country vic & those who came forward with tip-offs were said to have been paid... or so the rumour went.

My home grown is still safe.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Anonymous 1, 2 & 3

All these points are correct and it seems, common knowledge.

I love the rumour that some rats were paid to dob in growers.

Yes, asset forfeiture laws are really leading the charge for drug busts. Like the frenzy to put in speed cameras due to the massive income they generate, the money made from asset forfeiture laws are just too attractive to ignore

"Cannabis supply was not dented at all". Why is this ignored by the police? It's mind boggling that instead we are told they are hurting organised crime? This is blatant lying from the police and government. Like Anon. said, it's only the Australian chapter that is affected.

Thanks again for your excellent comments.

BTW: Anon, I'm glad your home grown is still safe!