Quiet community hit by 350 per cent rise in crime
THE small Pioneer Valley community used to believe crime was a disease of the city, but residents are alarmed by a steady rise in lawlessness in their rural towns.
Queensland Crime Statistics reveal that over the past six years the number of reported offences has increased by 350 per cent in the Finch Hatton division, from 34 crimes in 2012 to a peak of 119 last year.
In 2018 the crime rate was the highest it has been in the 18 years of available records.
Two weeks ago, on Monday, August 19, the family-run Finch Hatton General Store was ransacked by burglars.
Manager Ashley Jones said the thieves rummaged through the office and storeroom, making off with $15,000 worth of cigarettes, and a small amount of cash from a charity collection box.
In the six years she has been managing the store, Ms Jones said they had never experienced "anything to this degree".
Every night since the break-in, store employee Kirsty Hitchins said, they double check all the doors. The store has installed new locks, new security cameras and now chains up the doors when they're closed.
"The fear is that we may be targeted again," Ms Jones said. "We feel like we're a soft target".
"We live in this town because we like to feel safe"
Concerned about rising crime, former Valley Rural Services owner and once proud Finch Hatton resident Chris Pollard said she was relieved to be leaving the town after her family-run Finch Hatton service station was hit in an organised overnight raid in June.
"We never used to lock our doors or cars (but) people don't feel safe here," Ms Pollard said.
"I can't wait to get out of the Valley, and I never thought I would say that."
Ms Pollard said the culprit for crime in the valley was obvious. She blamed a rise in drug use, especially ice, for the increasing crime rate.
The Queensland Crime Statistics showed a record-breaking 43 drug-related arrests were made last year in the Finch Hatton division, the highest arrest rate since 2003.
In 2018 drug offences made up more than one-third of all offences.
Mackay Crime Prevention Unit Sergeant Nigel Dalton said the statistics did not necessarily mean drug use was becoming worse, as they grouped minor possession charges with major arrests.
The overall rise in drug arrests was due to more proactive policing, Sgt Dalton said .
"From the drug detectives' point of view, it's business as usual.".
Despite an increase in the Pioneer Valley population, Sgt Dalton said there had been no increase in the number of police officers stationed in the region.
A Queensland Police Service spokeswoman said the Finch Hatton Division expanded over 24,000 sq km, and included the communities of Finch Hatton, Finch Hatton Gorge, Pinnacle, Netherdale, Eungella, Dalrymple and Crediton.
But he added that mobile policing units from Mackay often patrolled the area, as criminals often took advantage of the relaxed security in the small towns.