Crime Stoppers Victoria is asking people to speak up and disrupt the manufacture and supply of illegal substances in their local community.
Working with Victoria Police, Crime Stoppers will launch the ‘Know the Signs and Report Suspicious Drug Manufacturing’ campaign in Shepparton on Tuesday, 30 June 2020 at 11.30am outside Shepparton Police Station.
The campaign encourages Victorians to report suspicious drug manufacture activity by identifying signs of cannabis crop houses or clandestine drug laboratories.
The use of cannabis in the Greater Shepparton area is a public safety and health concern for police as well as the local community.
Crime data from the Shepparton Police Service Area identified 200 offenders charged with cannabis offences between May 2019 and May 2020.
Of the 200 offenders, 14 offenders were 17 years old or under (7%), 186 were adults (93%) with a total of 37 linked offences (11 assaults, 8 burglaries, 3 deceptions,10 handling stolen goods and 5 thefts).
The Shepparton 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
Inspector Kevin Coughlan says crop houses are 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 in the last 5 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. Depending when or if the house is seized, the margin profits are so high, the loss of the house is insignificant.’
Leading Senior Constable Darren Cook of Seymour Divisional Tasking Unit, says as a result of those 42 crop houses, Ausnet identified over $370,000 in stolen electricity. Even so, the real value of crop houses is difficult to determine:
‘The value of crop houses generally relies upon the admissions of offenders – who generally state that they have only been growing plants for a short time or refuse to comment – so it’s likely the value of plants is largely undervalued.’
Of these crop houses, Seymour police conducted three simultaneous search warrants at crop houses in the Wallan and Beveridge areas. The address owners were from metropolitan Melbourne and used false names and contact details in their electricity bills. The three investigations are described below:
Address 1: Couple claimed to be brother and sister. Couple 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.
Address 2: The first male (the ‘sitter’) ran out the back door and was apprehended by police. The second male (providing supplies to the ‘sitter’) arrived at the address and was apprehended. Premises were not occupied full-time. 227 plants seized and both males received a 24-month jail sentence.
Address 3: No-one at home. All rooms utilised as grow rooms. While processing the premises, a target vehicle drove past and was intercepted, with one male arrested. The male possessed door
keys and a roller door remote to the premises. 81 cannabis plants seized, and the male received a 24-month jail sentence.
Leading Senior Constable Darren Cook says 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.’
Although crop houses and clan labs depend on discretion to operate successfully, there are visible signs to indicate if one is operating in your area.
Stella Smith, Chief Executive of Crime Stoppers Victoria, encourages individuals to report properties that display visible signs of drug manufacturing:
‘Crop houses and clan 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.’
Stella Smith reminds the public that drug manufacturing is not always what they may expect to see or even smell:
‘For criminals operating crop houses or clan 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.’
Stella Smith continues to explain the visible signs that Victorians should be looking for:
‘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 Victorians can be looking out for in their neighborhood and community.’
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.
Stella Smith reminds Victorians 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. 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 www.crimestoppersvic.com.au or on 1800 333 000.
For further details and resources on the ‘Know the Signs and Report Suspicious Drug Manufacturing’ campaign, please visit www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.