A former Stawell Sergeant is heading up an operation to crack down on the theft of firearms from farming properties.
Head of Practice for Livestock and Farm Crime, Superintendent Craig Gillard, said police were seeing an increase with regards to firearms being stolen rural properties.
This follows an arrest in Bendigo of a 26-year-old man, for a series of alleged police pursuits in the area. A number of search warrants were executed with police allegedly locating seven firearms.
It is believed a number of the firearms were stolen from rural properties.
The man was charged with a range of offences including posssession and trafficking of drugs of dependance, traffic offences and firearms offences and is currently remanded in custody.
Superintendent Gillard, who was Sergeant in Charge at both Stawell and Halls Gap for a period, said he was concerned with rural properties being targeted and warned farmers in the Grampians region to be vigilant.
"We have long recognised that there is a black market for stolen firearms and unfortunately it is clearly linked to the drug trade. The increased risk that this presents to both members of the public and police is clear," Supt Gillard said.
"In order to mitigate the risk around firearms being stolen, police will increase the number of inspections of licensed firearms holders to ensure firearms are stored in accordance with legal requirements and that all recorded firearms are accountable.
"This is aimed purely at making it harder for criminals to steal firearms.
"We encourage licensed firearms holders to use the best possible means to secure their firearms, by building storage receptacles stronger than required. Keys should never be kept in open view of the firearms cabinet.
"Many inspections have already been undertaken with many more planned. Some of these inspections have revealed firearms unaccounted for and improperly stored, and those breaches have resulted in charges being laid against firearms owners."
Operation Unification is currently running throughout Australian and New Zealand. The campaign is being run by the Australian New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA) and targets illicit use, possession, manufacture and importation of firearms.
Police are encouraging community members who have information about illicit firearms to contact Crime Stoppers.
"Its main objective is to get illicit firearms out of the hands of criminals," Supt Gillard said.
"Operation Unification encourages information and intelligence sharing across jurisdictions about firearms and associated organised crime groups. It will also provide us with an opportunity to increase the recovery of stolen firearms and arrest and prosecute individuals with illicit firearms.
"Operation Unification highlights the important relationship between the public, Crime Stoppers and police to tackle the issue of illicit firearms."
Supt Gillard is reminding firearms owners that being a licensed firearms owner is a privilege not a right and comes with clear responsibilities.
"These responsibilities include taking all possible steps to ensure their firearms do not fall into the hands of those not authorised to have them," he said.
"Police are keen to work with rural residents to assist them in maintaining firearms security and encourage anyone with information around illegal firearms use, storage or possession to report it to police.
Any information will be treated with strict confidentiality. Remember - this is about improving community safety and reducing potential harm."