The South Coast is fast becoming the drug-growing capital of the state with new figures showing drug crop finds in the Shoalhaven have almost trebled in two years.
The figures come as NSW police launch a new campaign asking people to dob in any suspected drug production operations in the region.
While Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama local government areas recorded cultivation rates below the state average, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data showed the Shoalhaven had a rate of 71.2 drug crop finds per 100,000 head of population in 2012-13. This compared to just 16.6 for the state as a whole.
Shoalhaven Local Area Command crime manager Detective Inspector Mark Robinson said the data reflected active investigations into cannabis cultivation.
‘‘Apart from the statewide Cannabis Eradication Program, Shoalhaven LAC actively investigates cannabis cultivation, particularly the information provided by members of the public and other police,’’ he said.
‘‘The geography of the Shoalhaven area certainly plays a major role with regard to the outdoor cultivation of cannabis due to having large areas of bushland, many of which are quite remote and hard to access,’’ he said.
While the figures are high, the Shoalhaven can’t claim the crown of cannabis cultivation capital on the South Coast.
That title belonged to the Bega Valley local government area with 147.4 crop finds per 100,000 head of population.
The latest police campaign, which also targets amphetamine production, comes after three men were injured in a suspected meth lab explosion at Barden Ridge, Sydney, on Monday.
Police want members of the community to be on the lookout for strange odours coming from a property, diverted electricity, chemical containers, blacked out windows, hoses and pipes in strange places, extremely bright indoor lighting radiating through gaps in blinds, and vehicles arriving at odd hours.
Commander of the State Crime Command’s Drug Squad, Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, said drug houses were operating in many towns and suburbs in NSW.
‘‘In 2013 alone, the NSW Police Force has closed down 86 clandestine laboratories, used to manufacture drugs like ice, speed and ecstasy, and 163 hydro houses, used for growing cannabis,’’ he said.
‘‘Many of these drug dens blend into regular suburbia and neighbours may have no idea what the house is being used for.
But the operator of one of the Illawarra’s hydroponic stores, who asked to remain anonymous due to a stigma surrounding the industry, said the campaign could mean law-abiding citizens would be reported simply for growing vegetables indoors.
He said just because someone had hydroponic lights didn’t mean they were growing dope.
‘‘I had a guy come in to buy lights for a fish tank the other day,’’ he said.
Police encourage anyone who has information in relation to prohibited drugs to call Crimestoppers on 1800333000.