Organised criminal groups becoming 'harder' for police to detect: expert
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Organised criminal groups becoming 'harder' for police to detect: expert

Cannabis grow houses uncovered across Canberra were likely the tip of the iceberg as police moved to crack down on increasingly "fluid" criminal groups making inroads into the capital, an organised crime expert said.

ACT Policing flagged more properties would be raided in coming weeks after officers found more than 900 cannabis plants at various stages of maturity during raids on eight properties.

Police believe an organised criminal group was behind a series of similar growhouses police found in rental properties across Canberra.

Police believe an organised criminal group was behind a series of similar growhouses police found in rental properties across Canberra.Credit:ACT Policing

Police believed the same group of criminals used false identification to lease the properties before they set up the extensive grow houses and brought other people in to look after the crops.

Australian National University visiting fellow Clarke Jones said while terrorism and the ice scourge had dominated police efforts in recent years, it would be "naive" to think Canberra was isolated from the drug trade and organised criminal networks.

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"The police can only do what they can do and there's a correlation between police numbers and the number of detections. If you increase police numbers, you increase the number of detections.

"So therefore I would suggest there would definitely be more [grow houses]."

Dr Jones said modern-day criminal enterprises had moved away from traditional groups and become "very nebulous" and fluid, cross-ethnic and much harder for law enforcement agencies to detect.

Dr Jones said grow house set-ups in houses often went unnoticed unless a neighbour noticed something suspicious and reported it to authorities.

Organised crime and other low-to medium-level criminal networks were "well established" in Australia's strong and profitable cannabis market, the Australian Crime Commission said in this year's annual report into organised crime.

The cannabis market remained the largest illicit drug market in Australia but the nature and extent of criminal groups' involvement varied between jurisdictions, the report said.

Dr Jones said drug rings like the one discovered in Canberra were often run by groups of criminals who would come together for a short time and later disband.

The people they enlisted to run the grow houses became complicit in the crimes and were often the first to be detected by police and charged.

But they could be considered victims themselves and were often preyed upon because they were desperate for money, Dr Jones said.

"You often catch the mules of the drug trade and many of the leaders of these criminal groups go undetected," he said.

Megan Gorrey is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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