By GEORGIA HOLLOWAY
Vigilantes are patrolling the streets of Leopold, despite Geelong Mayor Bruce Harwood dismissing an increase in crime, saying “statistics can be deceptive".
Bellarine MP Lisa Neville announced last year that crime had risen by 22.9 per cent after the closure of police stations along the Bellarine Peninsula.
Leopold Community Watch founder Alanna Reinert, a business owner and resident, said some locals possiblyinvolved in a Neighbourhood Watch group had been acting as vigilantes in response to the rise in crime, and they were "scaring" people.
"They are taking things into their own hands because they don’t think the police are doing their job. Not enough police will cause more of these groups – that’s why more police need to be patrolling," she said.
"They [the vigilantes] think they are doing good but they are scaring people."
A Geelong police officer, who did not wish to be named, said Leopold had increased in size dramatically with the shopping complex along with a number of new estates offering cheap land, without an increase in police presence.
The recent closures of police stations in Drysdale, Portarlington and Queenscliff had contributed to a lack of members on patrol in the area and available tor respond, he said.
"Many offenders that I have interviewed recently target the coastal areas as they know there is no police unit close by and that they have a 30-minute head start," he said.
Cr Harwood said the house and land packages in the area gave diversity to the market and had no correlation to crime, but agreed the lack of police could be an issue.
“There is no doubt that less police activity can encourage further criminal activity. We are not necessarily seeing growth in emergency services in areas to meet population growth,” he said.
"New estates and new houses are a target as they are not secure yet."
However, Cr Harwood, who said he had had discussions with Geelong Superintendent Craig Gillard, said Leopold was not a known hotspot for crime, with crime trends tending to be erratic. No suburb was immune to crime, but Leopold was a safe community to live in, he said.
The City of Greater Geelong’s 2011 Development Plan for Leopold was devised to deal with the strong population growth that was expected to be seen in the area by 2016.
Over the same time period, the Crime Statistics Agency reported an increase in criminal offences in Leopold, such as theft, assault and dangerous and negligent acts endangering others.
Geelong Council estimated that between 2006-2031 Leopold would gain 63,000 new residents, with a need for 41,000 new dwellings.
"It is it fair to say with the unprecedented demand for housing, that may increase," Cr Harwood said.
Ms Reinert said the Leopold Community Watch Facebook page had restored a sense of community to the area.
Neighbours had begun looking out for one another, she said.
"I think over 12 months ago there was a higher chance of falling victim to crime, because no one talked, no one kept an eye on each other’s properties," she said.
"We are now more vigilant and people are talking, which is great."