News

Shepparton locals urged to report suspicious drug manufacturing to Crime Stoppers

By Liz Mellino

Suspicious drug manufacturing in Greater Shepparton is the target of a new Crime Stoppers Victoria campaign, with residents urged to know the signs and report any activity.

Over the past year, 200 offenders were charged with cannabis offences in the Shepparton Police Service Area prompting the new campaign, which aims to crack down on cannabis crop houses and clandestine drug laboratories established in town.

The ‘Know the Signs and Report Suspicious Drug Manufacturing’ campaign was launched on Tuesday in a bid to support the Shepparton Divisional Tasking Unit and the role they play in investigating drug offences and associated crime.

“As part of Victoria Police's fight against drug crime in this state we are always looking for information to help us in that fight,” Shepparton police Inspector Kevin Coughlan said.

“Organised crime targets remote areas — crime gangs are coming further up our highways into our rural areas because it's easier for them.

“(Crop houses) are nondescript and they're sitting right beside your mums, dads, brothers and sisters — we're asking all these people to keep an eye out for these houses.”

Shepparton Police Inspector Kevin Coughlan.

Insp Coughlan said the use of cannabis in Greater Shepparton was a public health and safety concern, not just for police but the local community.

Of the 200 offenders detected in Greater Shepparton between May 2019 and May 2020, 14 of these were people aged 17 years or under while 186 were adults.

Police also detected a total of 37 linked offences which included 11 assaults, eight burglaries, three deceptions, 10 incidents of handling stolen goods and five thefts.

Insp Coughlan said crop houses were supplementing criminal networks with illicit funding in the drug trade and other organised crime, from which criminals were profiting "significantly".

“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 margin profits are so high, the loss of the house is insignificant.”

Crime Stoppers Victoria chief executive Stella Smith said there were a number of visible signs that Shepparton residents should be looking out for.

These include overgrown grass or weeds in the garden, junk mail overflowing from the mailbox, windows covered with shutters or large boards and limited movement in and out of the house.

“Crop houses and clan (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,” Ms Smith said.

“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.”

Crime Stoppers Victoria chief executive Stella Smith.

Ms Smith reminded locals that reporting any suspicions they had to Crime Stoppers was a safe and easy way to disrupt the manufacture of illegal substances in our town.

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

“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.”

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

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