New Zealand Police have located 1000 clandestine drug laboratories since official recording began in 1996.
In 1996 Police located just one lab.
The 1000th lab was detected in the back of a car stopped by Police in Hamilton last month. The lab was the 184th for 2006.
Since 1996, a progressive increase in clan labs has occurred with sharp growth during 2001 and 2002. Numbers reached in excess of 200 in the 2003 calendar year. Since then a gradual increase has been noted (following a slight decrease in 2004.
Assistant Commissioner, Peter Marshall says police continue to give high priority to drug-related offences, and specifically target illegal drug manufacturers and dealers. Police also work closely with Customs to target importations of drugs at the border.
"Quality intelligence and increased understanding of the dynamics of illicit drug markets mean we are continually improving our work in zeroing in on the supply chains and networks of manufacturers and dealers," he said.
"Their laboratories are notoriously difficult to detect because of their clandestine nature and the ability of offenders to conceal their activity."
Police have dedicated staff, in the form of the National Clandestine Laboratory Response Team, based in Auckland and Wellington who support all Police Districts to tackle the problem of the laboratories. The team is supported by analysts who work to identify the persons sourcing the materials used in drug manufacture and by monitoring their purchases.
Chemical companies and pharmacists assist this process through the identification of 'suspicious' purchases of the precursor chemicals used, and Police acknowledge this support. The public also provide support through reporting suspicious activities, such as odd chemical smells emanating from domestic residences.
"The effects of clandestine laboratories are felt throughout the community. The most common drug manufactured at these laboratories is methamphetamine, the adverse effects of which are linked to crimes of violence and theft," Mr Marshall said.
"In addition to the drug itself, there is the risk of injury through fire and/or explosion and contamination from the hazardous chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Domestic residences used for this illicit activity may also have residual contamination putting subsequent occupiers at risk."
"All too often, these dwellings are also the place of residence for young children who are being put at risk through exposure to these chemicals."
The Ministry of Health is currently developing guidelines for the remediation of these sites and Police are reviewing procedures where children are found to be exposed to the dangers associated with them to ensure appropriate action is taken for the welfare of these children.
Mr Marshall said the experience of New Zealand Police was now being shared with overseas law enforcement officers in the Asia Pacific region. This includes investigation techniques and 'best practice' for management of clandestine drug laboratories after detection. This was perhaps best demonstrated by the assistance given to Fiji in 2004 following the detection of what was then one of the world's largest clandestine drug laboratories.
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