Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 5.

The latest crime statistics for the Wangaratta Local Area Command are ‘‘alarming’’, says Inspector David Ryan.

Victoria Police on Wednesday released the crime data which shows the region, which includes Moira Shire, recorded an eight per cent increase in criminal offences last year.

The data compared the number of offences issued during the last calendar year to those issued in 2012.

Police issued a total of 4152 offences in the region last year, compared with 3839 in 2012.

The sharpest rise was in drug offences, which rose 42 per cent, from 297 in 2012 to 422 last year.

Insp Ryan said one third of the total drug offences last year were recorded in November during Operation Strawberry Fields, when police set up a road block near Koonoomoo to intercept drivers on their way to and from the Strawberry Fields music festival in Berrigan.

During the operation, 51 people were caught driving under the influence of drugs and 77 people charged with possession.

Insp Ryan said police would continue to seize drugs in the community, targeting drug dealers and aiming to combat the ‘‘youth culture’’ where young people ‘‘protected’’ drug dealers instead of reporting them.

‘‘Let’s call them what they are,’’ Insp Ryan said. ‘‘It’s a loser walking around nightclubs or about the community handing out ecstasy tablets or handing out points of ice or other amphetamines for their own gain.

‘‘Young people favour protection of drug dealers over the protection of their friends.

‘‘We need that to change.’’

Insp Ryan highlighted the 17 per cent increase in assaults as another concerning figure in the crime statistics.

He said family violence accounted for almost half the total assault offences in the region.

‘‘My message is quite simple regarding family violence,’’ Insp Ryan said.

‘‘It is time for all men in this community to stand up and say no to violence.

‘‘Family violence must become so socially unacceptable that perpetrators are left under no illusion that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and that their continued freedom is at risk.’’

Insp Ryan said the 41 per cent increase in residential burglary was also concerning, and urged residents to be vigilant around the home.

‘‘Successful reduction in burglary offending is usually through the observation activities of the community,’’ he said.

‘‘If someone or something is possibly suspicious, then people report it to police.’’

However, the data revealed a drop in crimes against property, with property damage offences falling almost two per cent and non-residential burglaries decreasing by 13 per cent.

Motor vehicle thefts were also down, with thefts from motor vehicles decreasing 15 per cent and thefts of motor vehicles decreasing by 14 per cent.

The region’s rate of crime per 100000 people was higher than Victoria’s, which increased 3.1 per cent during 2013.

Statewide, 420719 offences were issued last year, compared to 408112 in 2012.

AuthorToni Brient