Frankston on edge over ice epidemic

How to deal with drug-related assaults and break-ins has become a key election issue for residents in the diverse Dunkley electorate south-east of Melbourne, report Courtney Gillespie, Taylah Smith, Claire Towns and Alicia Titchmarsh.  

Increasing rates of violence related to the use of crystal methamphetamine in Frankston are causing concern for many locals, leaving some in fear for their lives.

Frankston resident David Cheevers says use of the drug ice is at “epidemic” levels and he no longer feels he or his family are safe from the related violence and crime.

Drug offences in Frankston more than doubled – and related violent crime increased more than 30 percent – in the five years to 2013-14, according to Victoria Police data.

Locals say there has been no letup since, making the drug problem a key electoral issue for residents in the Dunkley electorate. The electorate takes in middle class areas south-east of Melbourne such as Mt Eliza and pockets of disadvantage such as Frankston.

Mornington resident Vicky Jacobs says locals are very concerned. “Crime is all around us,’’ she says.

The high level of drug abuse has earned Frankston a spot on the no-go zone list for paramedics, according to Ambulance Victoria data. This often causes a delay in response time from paramedics as they require a police escort.

Kasey Danaher, a nursing and paramedic student who completed placements in Frankston, has witnessed this first-hand.

“Often ambulances are delayed because they are waiting for police backup.”

She recognises this is not optimal patient care but understands why they wait. “Drug users are erratic and scary to be around.”

Mr Cheevers, a sales manager from Frankston, says the restricted ambulance service is unfair.

“I might need help. My kids might need help and we might have to wait.”

Political commentator Shaun Carney, who grew up in the Frankston area, says the widespread use of ice is an election issue.

“You see people doing drug deals in the middle of the street,” he says.

Tracey Hopgood, convenor of Frankston United Neighbourhood Connect (FUNC), says parents are worried. “We have children and we don’t want them walking past a drug house that’s cooking meth on their way to school.”

She says neighbourhood watch groups such as FUNC can reduce break-ins and other drug-related crime.

Greens candidate Jeanette Swain attended an ice forum recently to discuss ways to resolve the problem. She says more health services are required. “Treating addicts like criminals is not the right way to go about this.”

Labor candidate Peta Murphy says her background as a criminal defence lawyer will prove helpful in tackling the problem. “I’ve got a much better understanding of how people find themselves in a situation where they are addicted to drugs or committing horrible crimes,’’ she says.

Ms Danaher says more police support for paramedics would help, but Mr Cheevers is not so sure.

“There are more police. I don’t think their efforts are working,” he says.

“The community needs upgraded shopping centres and more parklands to increase the land value,” he says, arguing that increased land values will increase well-being.

“Frankston is a beautiful area. It should be better to live here,” he says.

Kathryn Daley, an RMIT University researcher and former research fellow at the Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS), says Frankston faces many issues, including unemployment, at disproportionate rates to the rest of the state, which contributes significantly to drug use.

Early intervention is a key factor when trying to reduce drug use, she says, which is why the involvement of YSAS and youth organisation Headspace in the Frankston community is critical.