Sydney’s obsession with cocaine is fuelling violent organised crime and users are ignorant of the damaging consequences of buying the overpriced drug, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has warned.
The state’s top police officer said the city’s insatiable appetite for cocaine was propping up gangs who carry out murders, kidnappings and other crimes as they fight for control of the lucrative drug trade.
In an interview with The Sun-Herald, Commissioner Fuller said that organised crime in Sydney and beyond was about money and power, which largely flowed from illicit drugs.
“The reality we know with organised crime is: you take out the head [or] you take out the entire group, then there will always be someone willing to step up because of the power and the money that’s available,” he said.
“If you think taking a line of cocaine on Saturday night in the toilet of your local pub, club or restaurant is OK, you’re feeding that. And, whilst ever Sydney, particularly, has an obsession with cocaine, organised crime is going to flourish.”
Incidents of cocaine use and possession have soared in recent decades, increasing from 2.9 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 29.4 in 2020, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Australians also pay a premium price for cocaine, long priced at about $300 a gram, compared with an international average that is less than half of that. In the US, cocaine users pay $88 a gram.
As police pour resources into suppressing a potential flare-up in gang violence in south-west Sydney, following the shooting of underworld figure Mejid Hamzy in October, the commissioner said public safety was at risk.
“Any time you cut off the head of the snake, there are two snakes that want to replace it,” he said.
“It is a constant and, particularly in Sydney, there are a number of organised crime groups from around the world that are represented here. So it is a constant concern for me.”
Commissioner Fuller said the challenge was getting recreational drug users to understand their consumption was fuelling the “kidnappings, deaths, drive-by shootings”.
“I don’t think they make that connection at all. So from my perspective … I am lucky that the government gives us very strong powers to deal with organised criminals,” he said.
Cocaine use is significantly higher in wealthy areas, data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare confirms. Price spikes have also not had an impact on demand, including during the global coronavirus pandemic.
James Martin, a criminologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, said Commissioner Fuller’s observation about recreational drug use funding organised crime was objectively correct, but the problem was that long-standing law-enforcement policy was not working.
“It’s true, anyone who buys an illicit drug is contributing to the shadow economy and organised crime groups do control the illicit drugs trade. It is the most profitable illicit industry in the country,” Dr Martin said.
“If everybody stopped using illicit drugs overnight, that would deliver a massive blow to organised crime.”
But, he said, people’s consumption of drugs was increasing, despite years of work by law enforcement.
“It’s probably time we started looking at other options that take account of that reality,” he said, observing that legalisation of drugs would also deal a significant blow to organised crime groups.
Dr Martin said Sydney’s status as Australia’s cocaine capital warranted further research.
“There is something going on in Sydney, where there is no doubt a cultural element to this. It’s not just simple addiction,” he said.
Police have carried out major seizures of the drug this year, including Australia’s largest ever cocaine bust – finding 1.8 tonnes on a fishing vessel off Newcastle in August.
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