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Operation Piano: Drug bust takes guns off streets

Firearms and cannabis plants [below] seized in this weeks raid. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Meth still high priority for police

EMMA BROWN and MARCUS ANSELM

The danger of illegal firearms in the hands of criminals was a major factor in last week’s cannabis busts in South Wairarapa.

Nine people were arrested and more than $2 million worth of cannabis plants were seized in the Wairarapa arm of Operation Piano, an ongoing national police campaign.

The low-flying aircraft that caught the attention of Wairarapa residents over a three-day spell last week was a spotter plane.

It was used to identify target areas.

Once found, police applied for a warrant or used powers under the search and surveillance legislation to enter properties.

Wairarapa Police Area Commander Scott Miller said a lot of cannabis plants found in South Wairarapa were in people’s backyards.

Due to Wairarapa’s vast rural area, the use of the plane helped them cover a larger area than what would be possible with just ground officers.

In Featherston, a man was arrested for pointing a firearm at the plane.

Miller said when police arrived at the property, they saw the man outside holding a high-powered slug rifle.

Although the firearm was never going to be fired at the plane, Miller said police couldn’t tell on initial appearance what the firearm was.

“That’s a very dangerous situation being outside in a town street in public view with a firearm that for all intents and purposes is a firearm,” Miller said.

“In this instance, it’s a high-powered slug rifle, which can kill people, as we’ve found in the past.

“That brings the police into a whole new situation.

“They are now confronting someone in a street who’s outside with a firearm.

“You don’t want to be in that position.

“The reaction of the person with the firearm influences how the police have to react.”

Criminal Investigation Branch officer in charge Detective Sergeant Dean Cadwallader said illegal firearms, in possession of criminals, was a concern for them.

“It’s a safety issue for everybody, not just police.

“Doing illegal activity with illegal firearms means they’ve only got it for one purpose.

“That is a major concern for us, so we treat that very seriously.”

Miller said as part of last year’s firearms buyback scheme, everybody in Wairarapa had the opportunity to hand in firearms, no questions asked.

“The more firearms we can take off the street, the better it is for the public, the community, and obviously the police.”

Cadwallader said the haul of cash, firearms, and cannabis was similar to previous years and over the next week or so they expected to make more arrests as the operation continued.

“It’s very standard, we can do it year after year. The same patterns, the same amounts.”

“There’s money involved – the big bucks.”

“People talk about the focus on cannabis, but it’s only this time of year because it’s growing season.

“We’re collecting information all through the year and then acting on it.

“Out of the Wellington district, Wairarapa has a huge rural area and there’s lots of spaces to grow cannabis and try to remain undetected.”

Miller said they put far more effort into methamphetamine dealers and importers than they did into cannabis, but the reason it was a focus now was that it was quite public with the plane.

“Growing big cultivations, big dealing in cannabis, is illegal. And that’s the scale we’re looking at. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

“And that’s where our asset recovery team in Wellington looks into the crime. Because that’s what it is.”

Miller said it was proactive policing, looking for big growers and big dealers.

“We covered as much of Wairarapa as we can and then we go down to the Hutt as well.”

He said in the first couple days, they hit as many places as they could, but still had a backlog to get to.

He said police attitudes on drugs had changed over the past 20 years.

“Our view on users is about the health aspect. We try to give them options to get away from drugs. Not everyone takes up that opportunity.

“Hence, that’s why we don’t prosecute, we go through alternative action plans and offer them rehabilitation and support.”

He said what they were looking for was big growers and dealers.

“If people can show us there’s cannabis being grown for their own use, we have the discretion to give out a warning.”

Users and people considered to be growing for personal use could be given a warning and referred to the Te Pae Oranga panel – a six-week process of trying to get them addiction help.

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