REGION - The latest crime statistics confirm the Northern Grampians Shire Police Service Area (PSA) has a drug problem.
Drug offences in the PSA, which includes Ararat Rural City, Northern Grampians Shire and Yarriambiak Shire council areas, rose a steep 117.1 per cent in the last 12 months - the highest of any police service area in the state.
Between October 1 last year and September 30 this year 280 drug offences were recorded, that is compared to 129 for the previous 12 months.
Northern Grampians Shire Police Service Area Inspector Ian Lindsay said although the figures are quite high they are primarily the result of police within the PSA actively targeting drug-related crime through a number of operations and tasked patrols, resulting in an increase in the number of drug crimes detected.
"You have to look at it in the context, any rise is a concern but a lot of it comes from enforcement activity, intelligence and information received," he said.
"Drugs are something that are always present in the community and they are a significant driver of violence and property crime."
Insp Lindsay said a large percentage of the information that police use to enforce the law against those trafficking or using drugs of dependence comes from the community.
"The fact that we have been able to obtain more warrants is due to the information received from community and that is positive, encouraging and reassuring."
Cannabis and methamphetamine - more commonly known as Ice are the drugs of choice for most users across the region with youth to middle age accounting for many of the offences.
"A lot of the people are recidivist or transient offenders, people who come to town for a couple of months and aren't actually long term residents," Insp Lindsay said.
"This impacts not only on the family in the home but on the road and businesses."
Ararat Rural City Mayor, Cr Paul Hooper said the figures were concerning and that drug activity is obviously an issue that council will continue to watch very closely.
Northern Grampians Shire Council CEO Justine Linley said increases in the statistics, particularly in the area of drugs, should not necessarily be seen as a negative.
"This shows that Victoria Police are concentrating on and apprehending offenders in an area of real concern to our communities. "This for us underpins the need to maintain if not increase frontline policing numbers in the Northern Grampians PSA and in particular in towns like Stawell and St Arnaud but also in the smaller or more seasonal communities such as Halls Gap.
"Council has a focus in its 2013-2017 Council Plan on Emergency Management and Community Safety. Advocating for well-resourced policing and emergency services in the shire and the region is a key priority for council and one that council will apply consistent pressure on the agencies and State Government to achieve."
Insp Lindsay hopes that through education and awareness in the long term the number of offences will fall.
"It is important we take proactive measures and that council, community and families work together to ensure a timely response and change in behaviour that improves health," he said.
"I encourage all community members to continue to provide information to police about those involved in trafficking or using drugs.
"This information can be provided anonymously via Crime Stoppers (1800 333 000) or to your local police station/officer."
According to the figures the overall recorded crime rate across Victoria has increased 2.7 per cent while the total number of offences recorded is up by 4.6 per cent.
Another area of concern for police in this PSA is the number of people killed on the roads. Six people died between July 1 last year and June 30 this year, double the number for the previous 12 months.
The regional rise is in stark contrast to a state road toll that is well down and on track for a record low.
"In recent times the PSA and surrounding areas have seen a number of serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents," Insp Lindsay said.
"Primarily of concern is the number of single vehicle collisions in to fixed objects.
"Our focus will remain on the detection and enforcement of distraction offences involving mobile phones. Drug, alcohol and speed testing will be clearly visible out in the community to reduce road trauma.
"Please ensure you are driving responsibly. Any death is regrettable and has a significant affect on families.
"We want your travel to be safe, sound and responsible with the festive season approaching."