ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - After three marijuana grow houses were busted in Tampa Bay over the last week, St. Petersburg Police are warning people to watch out for tell-tale signs of an illegal-marijuana operation in their neighborhoods.
The latest grow house bust occurred on Sunday morning at 3643 6th Avenue South in St. Petersburg.
"We were there for an unrelated event, and the officers were doing a door-to-door canvas of the neighborhood," said St. Petersburg Police spokesperson Rick Shaw, "and as they knocked on the door, they could smell marijuana just pouring out of the house. Low and behold, they saw marijuana plants hanging from the ceiling to dry."
Police discovered 32 pounds of marijuana inside the home, in addition to 58.8 grams of cocaine and a gun. No arrests have been made, but the grow operation was shut down.
The discovery follows another grow house bust in Hernando County last Friday, April 22, where three people were arrested. Authorities believe they are connected to a larger Cuban operation that spans multiple counties and was broken apart in March.
House fires in Sarasota, April 21, and in Hillsborough County, April 5, led deputies to hundreds of pounds of pot.
While grow houses are often in unsuspecting neighborhoods and homes, authorities say they tend to have similarities that neighbors may find peculiar.
"If the windows are all boarded up and covered all the time, that should be a clue," said Shaw.
Drug dealers often keep the windows guarded with bars and blinds and only enter through a closed garage to load and unload materials.
Authorities say multiple air conditioning units on the outside of the home are a red flag as well. The A/C units, along with high-powered light bulbs, are used to keep the house at an optimal grow temperature.
Neighbors may notice new privacy fences going up at the homes, which are often rental units.
Police say the homes are often vacant, only used for growing.
"You don't see cars there on a regular basis. You just see a person come once in a blue moon, once a week or once every few days. That means something is probably not right," added Shaw.
Landlords and property owners are encouraged to visit their rental homes occasionally to check on the property for any strange activity.
Anyone who suspects a grow house could be in their neighborhood is encouraged to contact police.
St Petesburg Police are still searching for the people responsible for the grow home busted on Sunday.