Sheriff Seeks to Identify Illegal Grows with New Tier System

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During the April 12 board of supervisors meeting, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese presented a new tier system for processing marijuana grow site complaints. The new internal system aims to assess the risk of marijuana cultivation sites by categorizing each received complaint into one of three different tiers.

This process, carried out by the Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), will help determine how much staff is needed to carry out the corresponding operation to a site.

The MET is composed of patrol deputies, detectives, custodial deputies and probation officers. Up to this point, the MET was not a full-time assignment, meaning staff would work 40-hour weeks on their regular assignments and sacrifice hours of their own time to the MET operation once they were done.

During his presentation, Sheriff Briese announced that two sergeants will be temporarily assigned full-time to the MET for the months of May through Sept. He maintained that a better solution to the county’s illegal marijuana cultivation problem would be to get more, possibly six, full-time staff assigned to the MET.

Before this new tiering process was put in place there was, “no organized way to vet each complaint,” said Briese. With 92 complaints so far this year and surely more to come, Briese assured the public that, “The sheriff office’s top priority is public safety.”

The tier system puts the lowest assessed risk cases in tier three. An example of a case that would be categorized as tier three would be a neighbor complaint of a small grow which, according to regulations, must to be a maximum of six plants for recreational growers and a maximum of 12 for qualified medicinal patients with a doctor’s recommendation. A tier three complaint requires two to four staff members to respond.

The second tier is labeled as medium level risk and might be a case dealing with a large grow site, and possibly a history of past grow sites. It was noted in the sheriff’s presentation that these cases would also have no history of violence and four to eight staff members would be needed for the operation.

The highest risk complaints are categorized into tier one, which also deals with large grow sites, but these sites are of a significant public safety concern and might have an unknown number of suspects, some of which might be operated by drug trafficking organizations (DTO). These cases involve long investigations with heavily planned operations carried out by 10-12 officers.

After the sheriff’s presentation, safety and environmental concerns were a top priority for several Mariposa residents that provided public comment. Some noted that these illegal grow sites are using high amounts of water during the ongoing California drought in addition to hazardous chemicals.

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