BY SHONA LOUIS
Empty retail precincts have left shopfronts vulnerable to break-ins during COVID-19 closures.
A combination of Victoria’s statewide restrictions on “non-essential” businesses, combined with financial pressures brought on by the pandemic has seen the closure, or limited operation of, many shops and cafes.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said police were bracing for an increase in commercial burglaries during the shutdown.
St Kilda florist Myliesha Ryder has increased her shop’s security since the COVID-19 restrictions came into place.
“With less people around we’ve had to make sure all lighting is left on 24/7 and security is working fully in all areas. We’ve also installed more cameras,” Ms Ryder said.
Dep. Comm. Patton said police would increase street patrols, comprised of both PSOs and police officers, to reassure the public and help deter opportunistic crime in vacant shopping strips.
With the state’s public transport patronage dwindling, 160 PSOs have been redeployed to provide ongoing security to retail precincts such as Melbourne Central and Chapel Street.
“The new patrols will help support the many business owners who are more vulnerable to break-ins,” Dep. Comm. Patton said.
Ms Ryder's florist shop was targeted by thieves, who stole a computer, earlier this year.
After running Luna Moss from its St Kilda shop front for more than four years, Ms Ryder has been forced to close to the public during the health crisis. She has since transitioned to online trading.
“I can’t take the risk [of COVID-19 infection] as I had chemo treatment last year. We are doing contactless floral deliveries, [orders] come through either by phone or online,” Ms Ryder said.
Despite an 80% reduction in revenue since the lockdown began, Ms Ryder has had to bear the expense of cameras and lighting to protect the closed shop front while trading online.
She said she has not received any support from local police since the lockdown began, but said any contact would be reassuring.
St Kilda’s Acland and Fitzroy Streets are both designated areas for the new PSO patrols. Florist Luna Moss is located a short distance away on St Kilda Road.
“We should all benefit from the PSO patrols, not just some streets,” Ms Ryder said.
A week-long police operation targeting burglaries on commercial and industrial areas at the start of April led to 54 arrests.
Acting Superintendent Kelvin Gale said burglaries on commercial properties were often considered by perpetrators to be victimless crimes.
“We know this is not the case with many business owners and operators suffering significantly when theft occurs,” Act. Supt Gale said.
“This is even more particularly true during these financially challenging times.”