A FORMER Bendigo mayor says residents in the rural areas north of Bendigo are suffering from a chronic shortage in police resources leaving them open to burglaries, thefts and other crimes.
Maurie Sharkey, who lives at Barnadown and served as Bendigo mayor in 1998 and 1999, was the victim of a recent burglary along with his neighbour and others in the area.
He said there was little to no police presence in the region from Rochester to Goornong after 5pm – and criminals were taking full advantage.
“These criminals do their homework. We’ve had people from Geelong carrying out crime here, they know we’re soft targets,” Mr Sharkey said.
“People are so frustrated to have their belongings stolen, it’s sad to see them lose confidence like this.
“We have the highest regard for the police and the work they do, but we just don’t seem to have the resources here.”
Burglaries and thefts have doubled in Rochester in the last 12 months and, despite several arrests related to rural crime, rural properties continue to be targeted for farm machinery, vehicles, firearms and tools.
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Mr Sharkey said police members in the small towns – Elmore, Raywood and Goornong – were often required to carry out duties in towns such as Kyabram and Echuca, taking them away from the local area.
“At the moment, it’s clear it’s just not working,” he said.
Mr Sharkey outlined his concerns in a letter to a number of local MPs, as well as the police minister and chief commissioner.
He received a response this week.
Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell relayed Mr Sharkey’s concerns during a speech to parliament last week. Policing numbers are likely to be a major issue at next year’s state election.
Ms Lovell said the government needed to “improve the police service delivery” in the Bendigo and Campaspe police service areas.
“It is time that a reorganisation of policing in small country areas in my electorate occurs to ensure our small regional communities receive the proper police service delivery that all Victorians deserve,” she said.
A spokesperson for police minister Lisa Neville said the specific issues were an operational matter for Victoria Police.
Ms Neville said the state government was increasing police numbers.
“We are delivering the biggest increase in police numbers in Victoria's history with 3,135 police on top of attrition being recruited over the next five years,” she said.
“This is based on a new staff model that for the first takes into account of the specific issues regional communities face.
“The roll-out of these officers from the Victoria Police Academy will ensure all police areas and communities, including in regional areas, have the police resources they need.”