METHAMPETAMINE has been blamed for the majority of violent and property crimes in Warrnambool.
The head of a police unit set up to tackle the ice problem said many offences involving violence, burglary, theft and “home run-throughs” occurred last year because the perpetrators were involved in the ice trade.
Acting Sergeant Richard Hughes was speaking after the unit successfully secured the conviction of Nicole Lockwood, 41, formerly of Warrnambool and recently of Berwick, for ice trafficking.
Police had told the Warrnambool Magistrates Court that Lockwood was “top of the tree” in supplying ice in Warrnambool last year.
Lockwood was earlier this month sentenced to three months’ jail but is out on bail, pending a sentence appeal.
Acting Sergeant Hughes said the lack of a police unit in Warrnambool to tackle drugs prior to last year had allowed organised drug trafficking in the south-west to flourish.
The ice epidemic presently gripping the south-west was akin to the popularity of heroin in the region in the late 1990s, he said.
The demand for heroin in the south-west “virtually stopped in 2001” but was soon replaced by demand for ice, which built up from 2003-2004 and accelerated in recent years to become an epidemic, Acting Sergeant Hughes said.
The epidemic prompted the establishment of a Warrnambool police divisional response unit (DRU) last May, which has been successful in reducing crime.
“Recent analysis of crime figures indicates arrests made by the DRU have drastically reduced other crime,” Acting Sergeant Hughes said.
Police from the DRU had arrested more than 40 people, mostly for ice trafficking, between June last year and January this year.
Acting Sergeant Hughes said a number of other arrests had been made since January as the unit continued its work. At least six people from Lockwood’s drug syndicate were among those arrested and convicted, with a number serving jail sentences.
Police have said that Nicole Lockwood and her daughter Jessica Pennery-Keenan inherited a drug ring from Lockwood’s husband, Mark Lockwood, after he went to jail. Mark Lockwood was last year sentenced to 12 months’ jail, with a non-parole period of six months for drug trafficking.
Acting Sergeant Hughes said the Lockwoods were unknown to police until 2012 because Warrnambool did not have officers assigned to specifically tackle drug trafficking.
The DRU had run an operation, code-named Defenders, that had specifically targeted Nicole Lockwood, because it was aware of the big effect her trafficking was having on the local community, he said.
The community could be confident that local police were tackling the ice problem “vigorously”, he said.
“We want to thank the community who have supplied information through Crime Stoppers and other sources that led to the conviction of some of these people and others for trafficking that were not related to Defenders,” Acting Sergeant Hughes said.