Local businesses continue plea for 24-hour police station

By Dylan Arvela

Calls for an increased police presence in Cobram continue to grow after a spate of break-and-enter incidents in the district in recent weeks. A mounting number of local business owners are urging the Victorian Government to operate Cobram Police Station around the clock to help address the region’s escalating crime rate.

As reported in the Cobram Courier on July 10, there has been a 56 per cent increase in overall crime incidents in Moira Local Government Area since 2015 with the figure going from 1078 in 2015 to 1685 in 2019.

In that time, incidents of theft rose from 242 to 512 while burglaries rose from 130 to 259. Incidents of theft and burglaries are significantly lower in the neighbouring LGAs of Wangaratta and Benalla and only marginally lower than the significantly more populated Wodonga LGA.

Cobram Crime Investigation Unit's Senior Sergeant Darren McGrillen said the increase of theft and burglary in the past four years had in part been related to drugs, however recent breakthroughs by police had already seen a decrease in similar crime incidents.

Ray Fitzpatrick and his wife Cheryl own Big Mumma’s Kitchen, from where a charity tin was stolen recently. Although this incident occurred during the day, Mr Fitzpatrick is one of a growing number of business owners pleading for Cobram Police Station to be open 24 hours a day.

“It’s (the theft of the charity tin) the lowest I reckon you could get to; now we have to chain it to the bench, which we shouldn’t have to.

“The police do a fantastic job, I am not having a go at them, but they are limited.

“It’s the after-hours, there’s no-one here and the crooks know it and they’re taking advantage and coming from out of Cobram to do these burglaries.

“If we had a (24-hour) presence around the town it would be a lot better.”

Mr Fitzpatrick believes increased CCTV coverage around the town would help deter criminals as well as assist investigations when crimes occurred. He admits, however, installation of an adequate system incurs a considerable upfront expense.

“Businesses do a great job and it is hard to make a dollar, so to put in a security system, the money has to come from somewhere because you are looking at $1000 plus,” he said.

“I would like to see everybody put CCTV in because the more we have got, the more we can keep an eye on our streets and help the police.

“Since we have had (CCTV) cameras put in, we have caught six people attempting to break in or do damage to the shop.''

Vanity Day Spa was broken into last Thursday night with the criminals bypassing the business’ security system by blocking a camera before turning off the power. Employee Cassandra Burgess said the incident was infuriating.

She explained how the petty thieves carelessly ransacked the retreat.

“We were broken into over Thursday night and our salon was trashed, our door was wrecked and some stuff was taken,” she said.

“It is not very nice and it is not the first time people have tried to break into our salon — and I don’t think it will be the last.

“It’s horrible because we work long days and try as hard as we can to give the community something they need, and for our hard work to be disregarded is really annoying.

“If we had had 24-hour policing this wouldn’t be happening. Everyone knows there are no police here (after-hours) and if they are turning off cameras then they are not getting caught.

“I lived in Dandenong before I moved back here and I have seen more crime in my year-and-a-half here than the two years I was in Dandanong — that’s pretty bad.''

Currently thefts and burglaries are only dealt with while Cobram Police Station is open, with serious crimes in the early hours of the morning requiring police to travel from as far as Wangaratta or Shepparton.