Drug dealers and users are being arrested in Victorian schoolyards more than twice a week as students become an increasingly lucrative market for ice and other dangerous street drugs.
The revelation comes as the Andrews government prepares to pass new laws making it a special criminal offence to sell crystal methamphetamine – or ice – to schoolchildren or near schools as part of its declared war on the drug.
New data from the Crime Statistics Agency shows that drug trafficking arrests involving Victoria’s public and private schools have almost doubled over the past five years, while drug use and possession offences have soared by more than 30 per cent.
The figures show there have been 573 drug dealing, use or possession offences recorded as occurring at a Victorian school or school ground in the past five years. Police have directly attributed about 360 incidents to primary, secondary or K-12 campuses.
In an alarming trend, the total amount of drug-related crime linked to schools has climbed more than 40 per cent from 2010-14, according to the CSA.
The Department of Education has refused to comment on whether the Victorian school system has a problem with illicit drugs, claiming that drug-related incidents are “extremely rare”.
But the department has conceded there is no mandatory reporting system that requires principals or staff to notify the department about drug activity on campuses.
“Not all instances relating to drugs in schools are reported to this system because department policy encourages schools to focus on drug education, harm minimisation and providing appropriate support to affected students,” a spokesman said.
“The department receives around 14 reports a year of drugs at government schools, which is less than one report per 100 schools.”
The department also noted it did not have access to drug statistics for Catholic and independent schools despite its responsibility for regulating the state’s education sector. It said principals were required to report any alleged criminal activity to police.
Catholic Education Melbourne and Independent Schools Victoria said they did not collect data on drug offences.
However, the Department of Education claims the “majority” of drug offences attributed to the school system were committed by “trespassers” (non-students) who have been caught using or selling drugs on school grounds outside school hours and during holidays.
But CSA figures actually show that 65 per cent of all drug-related crime on campuses occurs from 8am to 5pm on Monday to Friday during the school term.
There were 73 drug-related offences recorded in 2014 during school hours, which corresponds to more than two drug crimes being detected per school week.
A Victorian principal, who asked to remain anonymous, said the discrepancy in the figures was likely because the department “doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know” what’s happening with such a politically sensitive issue.
“Record keeping at the department is terrible. It could also be that some principals either don’t know how to report these kinds of incidents properly or resist doing it because of what it says about the school.”
Youth outreach worker Les Twentyman said the Department of Education was “in denial” about the scope of the problem.
“Ice is a major issue in society as a whole but we’re supposed to believe the department that schools are somehow immune?” he said. “Drugs and gangs are absolutely in our schools and part of the problem is the denial of this issue by the education department.”
The Sunday Age understands that ice is being sold to students by other students at a prominent state school in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Deals are conducted during class breaks and lunch near a tree on school grounds that is well known as a place to buy drugs, a source said.
The school’s principal said they had “no evidence” it was occurring and insisted that staff would be aware if drug deals were taking place on the 1500-student campus.
The CSA data also confirms claims that school grounds have become a focal point for activity by drug traffickers and users in the evenings and on weekends.
Police and education sources say that school grounds – which are often surrounded by fences and trees but remain accessible after-hours – attract less attention for dealers and users than public parks.
The Education Department did not answer questions about what security precautions, if any, have been implemented to prevent the infiltration of drug traffickers and users onto school campuses during or after school hours.
School staff are empowered to conduct locker and desk searches, but the department does not know how often they occur. The Sunday Age understands the department opposes the use of sniffer dogs on school campuses.
“Victorian schools take an education approach to drug prevention, and focus on developing students’ resilience, promote personal safety and provide good information to help kids make good decisions,” a department spokesman said.
The Andrews government, which launched a $45.5 million Ice Action Plan earlier this year, is planning to create special new penalties for dealing drugs – particularly ice – to schoolchildren or near schools following the findings of the 2014 Parliamentary Inquiry into Ice.
“The Andrews Labor government is determined to ensure we have laws that send the strongest possible message to those adults who push drugs to kids near schools,” Police Minister Wade Noonan said.
Victoria Police declined to comment on why there had been a surge in drug offences linked to school campuses.
“Statistically … drug offences in school locations only account for an incredibly small percentage of the overall offences – less than one per cent,” a spokeswoman said.
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