SAN FRANCISCO — As the marijuana harvest reaches its peak in remote sections of Northern California, innocent residents will be caught in the no-holds-barred battle between growers and police, and they don't like it.
"I felt like the Gestapo had arrived," one resident of Mendocino County said in reference to the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting.
Many of the residents of the areas with the largest marijuana crops--Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties--dislike the growers, but they also dislike CAMP tactics.
"I'm for getting rid of the marijuana all the way," Lloyd Johnson of Carlotta in Humboldt County said, "I'll say, 'Yes, go ahead--bust the pot growers, but leave me alone.' "
The legal battle between distressed residents and CAMP revolves around low-flying helicopter surveillance. The residents call it "buzzing."
"I know the noise is distressing," said William Ruzzamenti, the top federal agent working on CAMP, "but copters maximize our effectiveness."
Because marijuana is usually grown in small patches that are not accessible by roads, helicopters provide the best means to locate and remove the plants.
Since CAMP started two years ago, helicopter surveillance has been a source of contention between CAMP and residents who feel it violates their privacy.
In April a three-judge panel of the federal court modified U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar's injunction banning warrantless searches and seizures but did not mention his prohibition against the surveillance of private residences.
Tom Dove, a California deputy attorney general who is CAMP's legal counsel, said, "We can and will survey private residences."
Many residents of the affected areas say that if the "buzzing" continues, they will sue. Seventy of them filed individual complaints in San Jose on Aug. 29.
Some of the complaints focus on the general hostility of the CAMP agents. Johnson said that when he met up with CAMP agents on a road that goes through his property, he was told to "get the hell out of the working area" and if he did not like their conduct, he could "take it up with a lawyer."
Part of the reason for the hostility of CAMP agents is the fear created by the threat of well-armed growers.
"It's a mini-war up there," Ruzzamenti said. "The old grower was seldom armed. The new generation of grower is invariably armed."
CAMP agents in 1983 confiscated 80 firearms in 524 raids. In 1984 they confiscated 525 firearms in 398 raids. This year, they expect growers to be even more heavily armed than in the past.
CAMP agents also encountered 60 to 70 booby traps set by growers. Trip wires attached to loaded shotguns, hand grenades and suspended spiked weights are some of the home-grown defense systems used.