A citizen's tip led to the arrest Friday of a 49-year-old man in a quiet San Mateo neighborhood for allegedly growing hundreds of marijuana plants inside a home on 31st Avenue.
San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force Commander Lt. Marc Alcantara says indoor growing of the drug has become quite prevalent in our area.
"It's one of the our major up-and-coming drug-related crimes," says Alcantara. "What is odd about this instance is that it occurred in the city of San Mateo. More often than not our indoor marijuana grow investigations bring us to north county cities like Pacifica, Daly City, South San Francisco, Broadmoor, Millbrae, Half Moon Bay - those areas. That's where we see the majority of our indoor grows."
San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer says she's already heard from neighbors relieved the neighborhood operation was discovered, and calls the rapid increase of large-scale illegal pot grows in the county "a mushrooming public safety hazard."
"These are often organized criminal enterprises, guarded by firepower to prevent theft, illegally bypassing electric meters, and often times tapping into the power of utility providers and neighbors illegally," says Manheimer.
"The tragic fires that have resulted from these intricate grow houses is well documented. They are often in the midst of quiet residential neighborhoods, and that requires the help of our residents. It is important to educate the public about the level of danger from the illegal operations," Manheimer says.
Manheimer and Alcantara encourage the help of citizens in locating neighborhood grow sites. Each suggested some indicators that there might be an operation in your neighborhood.
"You'd hear whirring noises," says Alcantara, "because they need to have filtration inside the house. They need to get the oxygen out, and the carbon dioxide in for the plants, so they have filtration systems set up."
Alcantara and Manheimer mention several other signs that may be observed:
- Infrequent visits by individuals who stay for a couple hours and then leave.
- Lights in the house appear to be regulated, and on timers. Sometimes, rooms inside seem perpetually lit.
- Initial construction and the noise that comes from that work.
- A "skunky" marijuana odor, and other odors, such as those from mothballs, air fresheners or chlorine, which are used in an attempt to mask the marijuana smell.
- Unusual garbage strewn across lawn. Items used for growing marijuana, such as wiring, PVC piping and nutrient containers, may be discarded and left around the house.
- Windows covered in dark plastic or newspaper.
- Extra security, such as guard dogs, fences, or cars loitering for long periods of time.
The San Mateo Police Department suggests residents suspicious of activity in their neighborhood call one of several phone numbers listed below:
SMPD Dispatch : 650-522-7700
SMPD Investigations Bureau: 650-522-7650
SMPD Secret Witness hotline: 650-522-7676
Anonymous Text to SMPD: 650-262-3473
You may also send an anonymous e-mail to Sanmateo@tipnow.org
In other cities in the county, and in unincorporated areas, you're urged to call your local police department non-emergency phone number.
The Sheriff's Office non-emergency phone number is (650) 363-4911, and their anonymous tip line is (800) 547-2700.