A Langford man, who Victoria police say is connected to a criminal gang operating on the Lower Mainland, was apprehended in a dramatic drug bust in Esquimalt on Thursday.
A three-month investigation, involving 30 officers with the Victoria Police Department’s Street Crimes and Strike Force units, culminated in the arrest of the Langford man and an Esquimalt man, both in their 30s, and two 17-year-old females from Langford.
Bystanders watched the gripping scene unfold as 20 uniformed and plainclothes VicPD officers descended on a small red car in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot off Esquimalt Road around 3 p.m.
The teens, who were on foot, were arrested first. Officers then pulled the men from their parked vehicle and loaded them into a police van.
“It was a larger scale operation for the Victoria Police Department,” said Const. Harvey Stevenson, with VicPD’s Street Crimes Unit, and primary investigator of the case.
Immediately following the arrests, investigators executed search warrants at apartments in the 1000-block of Esquimalt Rd. and in the 800-block of Goldstream Ave. in Langford. Police say they shut down a cookhouse at the Langford address where cocaine in its powder form was being converted into smokable crack cocaine.
Between the homes and the suspects, police seized about one kilogram of cocaine, with a street value of about $45,000, nine ounces of heroin, worth more than $20,000, $9,000 in cash, and a Volkswagen car, Stevenson said.
Most of the seized items were taken from the Langford apartment, he said, adding no weapons were found.
The suspects face more than a dozen charges relating to trafficking of a controlled substance and possession for the purposes of trafficking a controlled substance.
“It feels good,” Stevenson said of taking a “significant” drug haul off the streets.
Police are also buoyed by the apprehension of a suspect with alleged ties to a Lower Mainland gang, which Stevenson said is connected to recent shootings and gang conflict in the Vancouver area.
He would not disclose the gang’s name.
“I think what’s more important than targeting drugs, is targeting the people that are selling the drugs,” he said.
“Obviously the people that are associated to gangs, like they have on the Lower Mainland – that’s a priority (for police). So it feels good taking action on people like that, and making sure we don’t have those people in our community.”
The teens and the Esquimalt man do not have gang affiliations.
“Just wrong people, wrong time,” Stevenson said.
Victoria is an attractive destination for those operating in the criminal underworld.
“We’ve had (gang members) here for sure,” he said.
“There’s a large drug population in Victoria. We have a large street population. With that comes drugs. With that comes the opportunity to sell drugs, which obviously is desirable for gang members.”
Cocaine, and more specifically, crack cocaine are popular with Victoria’s street people, the officer said.
Victoria police were inundated last year with more than 180 files related to possession of a controlled substance for the purposes of trafficking.
Compare that to Saanich, which saw nine cases last year, and the Vancouver Police Department, which dealt with 220 similar cases in 2011 but has five times the number of officers that Victoria does, Stevenson said.
“Every second day we had a file that we arrested somebody who had enough drugs for the purpose of trafficking,” he said.
The afternoon arrest shocked Saanich resident Merna Tierney, who had unknowingly parked next to the suspects’ car in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot.
She was sitting in her vehicle facing Esquimalt Road listening to classic Bob Dylan songs with the volume cranked up, when she saw a flurry of activity out of the corner of her eye.
“(Police officers) smashed the window of the car, hauled a guy out and put him on the ground,” the Victoria News circulation field representative recalled.
Tierney got out of her vehicle and heard one officer ask the suspect, who was face down on the pavement, if he had any weapons on him. About four uniformed and plainclothes officers stood nearby with guns drawn.
“I was just kind of freaked. I’d never seen cops with guns pulled out before,” she said.
Upon closer inspection, she saw another officer had pinned a second man to the ground.
“It was almost like it was TV,” Tierney said. “It seemed unreal actually, that there were that many policemen there that quickly. It’s like they materialized out of nowhere.”
The suspects, whose names are being withheld until charges are approved by Crown prosecutors, have since been released from custody.
The four will likely face court dates within the next two months, Stevenson said, adding police are preparing to recommend charges to Crown.