SHOCKING increases in drug offences have put into question our methods to combat the ever-dangerous substance abuse issue in Melbourne’s outer east.
The Yarra Ranges Police service area’s drug crime increased by 13.1 per cent in the past year according to Victoria Police’s My Place statistics page. Victoria Police’s 2013/14 crime statistics also showed a 15.4 per cent substance offence increase in our Eastern region.
Belgrave Police Sergeant Mick Hall believes drug use in the area is only going to get worse.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the figures keep on increasing because they impact on other crimes. People want their drugs and then they run out of money so they have to commit crime to keep the drugs. It is a viscous circle,” said Hall.
A frightening example of this substance crime was the pepper spraying of 6 youths at Lilydale Lake on August 27. Police were alerted via a triple zero call to help neutralise 20-30 alcohol affected youths who were throwing bottles and abusing other patrons of the lake.
Sgt Hall was the supervising officer during the incident and believes that the spray was and is only used to protect officers.
“The spray is basically used there for our self defence. We can’t use it on passive people; they’ve got to be people who we perceive are going to inflict injury, attack us or attack other people. It must be a serious or imminent risk for us to deploy that [spray],” said Hall.
Sgt Hall also believes that rehabilitating and counselling victims of drug use is a better way to combat the problem. Sprays and aggressive methods only work as a short-term fix according to Hall.
“Sending them through diversion programs rather than just charging them and leaving them [is better to stop drug abuse], especially people caught the first time with illicit drugs. They are diverted away from a court system with diversion notices, rather than charging them,” said Hall.
Yet, manager of the Crown Hotel in Lilydale, Paul Wallace has had to install tight security to stop drug users affecting his business and agrees with a tougher stance on drug crime.
“If they are taking it [drugs] there is no problem with it [pepper spray]. You have to deal with the problem some way. When they [users] are drug affected they seem to be not easy to handle; they have increased strength and you couldn’t tell what they are about to do either. Police have got to do what they got to do to create some order,” said Wallace.
Sgt Hall has also said that Victoria Police must target homemade drug production if they have any hope of limiting substance abuse in the area.
“The prevalence of drugs is going to always increase because now people or groups of persons want to manufacture their own. In the past it was all imported but now with meth labs going on people will manufacture or attempt to manufacture their own,” said Hall.