News

Know the signs of drug activity in the community

By David Rak

Crime Stoppers Victoria is asking people to speak up and disrupt the manufacture and supply of illegal substances in Seymour and district.

Working with Victoria Police, Crime Stoppers launched the ‘Know the Signs and Report Suspicious Drug Manufacturing’ campaign recently.

The campaign encourages Victorians to report suspicious drug manufacture activity by identifying signs of cannabis crop houses or clandestine drug laboratories.

The Seymour Divisional Tasking Unit (DTU) is a dedicated unit specialising in investigations of drug offences and associated crime.

Through enforcement of supply reduction and interruption strategies, DTU conduct targeted operations to disrupt and reduce the production, supply and trafficking of cannabis and other associated illegal drugs.

Mitchell and Benalla Crime Manager Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Maher said crop houses were supplementing criminal networks with illicit funding in the drug trade and other organised crime, to which criminals are profiting significantly.

“Mitchell Police Service Area processed 42 cannabis crop houses with illegal electricity bypasses in the past five years. If one crop rotation lasts three months, produces 200 plants and has an estimated street value of $500,000 - this equates to $2 million per year,” he said.

“Depending when or if the house is seized, the profit margins are so high, the loss of the house is insignificant.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Maher said as a result of those 42 crop houses, Ausnet identified more than $370,000 in stolen electricity.

“The value of crop houses is calculated by expert witnesses after a yield statement has been prepared by a botanist,” he said.

“In some instances of a large commercial quantity of narcotics being found, police may attempt to take possession of an offender’s assets, including the house.”

Seymour police recently conducted three simultaneous search warrants at crop houses in the Wallan and Beveridge areas. The property owners were from metropolitan Melbourne and used false names and contact details in their electricity bills.

At one a property a couple, claiming to be brother and sister, lived in the front part of the house including the kitchen and utilised the other rooms to cultivate cannabis. 229 cannabis plants were seized and both offenders received a 30-month jail sentence.

Detective Senior Sergeant Maher said crop houses are difficult to detect, even by neighbours.

“From speaking to neighbours of crop houses, offenders stay quiet and cause no noise – neighbours are highly unlikely to contact police over any minor suspicious behaviour,” he said.

“Although crop houses and clandestine labs depend on discretion to operate successfully, there are visible signs to indicate if one is operating in your area.

“Crop houses and clandestine labs are like abandoned homes; they look normal on the outside and are left unoccupied with little or no maintenance to the property and there will only be the rare sighting of visitors every couple of days.

“For criminals operating crop houses or clandestine labs, discretion is extremely important. Whether it’s using excessive ventilation to eliminate the smell of chemicals and cannabis or installing real or fake surveillance to deter public suspicions.

“Overgrown grass or weeds in the garden, junk mail overflowing from the mailbox and windows covered with metal shutters or large boards are noticeable signs that locals can be looking out for.”

The Victoria Police Clandestine Laboratory Squad have even found labs stored and hidden in sheds and shipping containers on rural properties.

With some shipping containers buried underground, Victoria Police warn the public that unexplained excavation on large properties could be another sign of drug manufacturing.

Detective Senior Sergeant Maher reminded Seymour and district residents that reporting to Crime Stoppers is a safe way to disrupt the manufacture of illegal substances.

“We understand why individuals may feel unsafe or choose to turn a blind eye when reporting drug manufacturing in their local area,” he said.

“Crime Stoppers is a confidential crime reporting service that does not require any personal details and protects the identity of the caller or individual reporting online.

“If you have seen visible signs or have suspicions of drug manufacturing in your area, please report to Crime Stoppers. A report to Crime Stoppers is confidential and your personal details are only collected if you choose to provide them. We do not record caller ID or IP tracking.”

Confidential reports can be made to Crime Stoppers at crimestoppersvic.com.au or on 1800 333 000.

For further details and resources on the ‘Know the Signs and Report Suspicious Drug Manufacturing’ campaign, visit crimestoppersvic.com.au