A five-month Ottawa police project designed to "choke off" the street-level trafficking of illicit drugs in Lowertown wrapped up Tuesday with the arrest of half of the targeted suspects, police said.
In the past five months, 84 street traffickers were identified through an investigation dubbed Project Woody, and they're to face 322 charges, police said.
It's the residual crimes that we are also reducing. These 84 individuals are trafficking to potentially hundreds of people at the street level and they have to get the money from somewhere, street crime and break-and-enter unit Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban said. We believe by choking this off, the actual supply, the demand will not be so high.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 30 Ottawa police officers arrested 20 people suspected of illicit drug activity in Lowertown, police said.
Another 22 people tied to the probe were in custody before Tuesday morning's raids, Ghadban said. They were apprehended throughout the five-month-long preliminary operation, he said.
A total of $68,000 worth of drugs and $9,500 in cash had been seized as part of the investigation, police said.
Police also arrested another four people during Tuesday's raids who were not identified during the investigation. One of them had 300 pills of ecstasy and one ounce of marijuana, police said. His vehicle was also seized.
Ghadban said police did consider whether to release news of the raids on Tuesday morning, but determined that the risk of wanted persons finding out was low.
He said the unit had not anticipated making so many arrests Tuesday, adding that previous street-crime operations netted fewer apprehensions on raid day.
Const. Tim Renwick and Const. John Black, neighbourhood officers with the central-west division, were part of the team sent out to round up the suspects.
In the afternoon, they got lucky. They knocked on the door of a man suspected of drug trafficking in the Lowertown area.
They want to bring me in? he asked the officers.
The man, who appeared to be in his 20s, was confused at first. He told police he had never been caught drug trafficking. However, Project Woody was an undercover operation, police said.
The man co-operated with police, but had one request before he was handcuffed: I just need socks.
The man went into his suite with the police trailing behind to make sure he didn't grab a weapon, they said. He emerged from his apartment into the hallway in handcuffs, wearing the socks he requested and flip-flops.
The officers escorted him into the elevator, out of the building and into a metal cage in the back of a van, which delivered him to the Elgin Street police station.
Renwick and Black drove around the Lowertown area looking for their targets, with a reporter and photographer trailing closely behind.
Armed with a booklet of photos and names of the targets, the officers hopped out of the van when they spotted someone who might fit one of the descriptions.
Some of the people they approached weren't intended targets and were upset about being stopped by police.
I'll just charge you with assault, one woman shouted outside of a shelter. I don't have to tell you nothing. The woman, who police called a "regular," was later seen doing twirls and dancing down a Lowertown street.
Without any luck walking the streets of Lowertown, the officers decided to check out known addresses of wanted people.
On King Edward, a teenager let the officers into a building. Their target was out of town on business, said his roommate, whose apartment was set up like a women's clothing shop. He had outfits with price tags hung on the walls of his apartment and high heels lined up on a shelf.
The officers left the building and went back to walking the street.
Warrants were to be issued for the arrests of all suspects who hadn't been caught by the end of the day on Tuesday, police said.
All of those who were arrested are to be sent to court today. Ottawa police will continue to monitor the charged individuals if they are released to make sure they're complying with conditions set by the judges, police said.
The goal of the project was to diminish the supply of drugs and encourage people to make contact with addiction support agencies, a police news release said.
Lowertown was the project's chosen target because of the large number of people who frequent the area for its nightlife, tourist haunts and more, police said.
Project Woody is the third major project conducted by the street crime unit in the past year-and-half, including Project Crackdown in May 2009 and Project Crackdown 2 in October 2009.
Founded in 2007, the street crime unit was originally a pilot project by Chief Vern White to combat street drug problems in the downtown core.
The unit was made permanent in April 2009.
Kristy Nease and Meghan Hurley
The Ottawa Citizen
June 2, 2010