Police working in Hepburn Shire have faced a unique set of challenges this year amid the threat of COVID-19.
With the Hepburn region the key tourist destination in the police division, Acting Senior Sergeant Matthew Flood said it had been a stressful year.
A region heavily reliant on tourism, thousands of tourists normally flock to the region each year for a weekend away or to experience a range of festivals but this year COVID-19 restrictions have prevented travel for much of the year - resulting in many accommodation booking cancellations and far fewer people spending money in shops, restaurants and cafes.
That is with the exception of when the first lockdown lifted and the region, particularly Daylesford, was inundated with visitors from Melbourne. This led to community tension about a COVID outbreak in the shire, but also widespread media attention.
"All of it combined has made it fairly stressful - the community has been anxious, business owners have been anxious about the loss of income and there are people with properties up here that are usually booked but haven't been," he said.
Daylesford Police's Station's phone has been consistently ringing throughout the year, with community members seeking answers to questions about the latest restrictions: "There were a lot of calls to the police station about reporting potential COVID breaches - whether it be people travelling from the lockdown area or there being too many people at a house," he said, adding that police would follow-up on all of these calls and would "close the loop" with the original complainant.
"Particularly in Daylesford, the pandemic response has been ever-present for staff here," Acting Senior Sergeant Flood said.
He said it was particularly difficult when the town was plastered all over the news earlier in the year for how busy it was during the Queen's Birthday weekend.
"It was something that was somewhat out of our control by that point because restrictions allowed people to be here but you still feel an onus or responsibility to keep people safe because that's ultimately what our role is - to keep people safe."
Heightened tensions also led to some "pretty poor behaviour" - property damage, aggressive confrontations and verbal abuse directed at people deemed to be visiting from Melbourne.
In addition to ensuring both the community and visitors have abided by the directions of the Chief Health Officer and enforcing the law where necessary, the shire's police have also been undertaking a lot of proactive work. This has included proactive patrols of popular areas to provide reassurance to the community as well as engaging with businesses and markets so they understand what their responsibilities are in line with restrictions.
"We have walked door-to-door to businesses to discuss density limits and to reinforce that they can call us for assistance if they need to," he said.
The shire's police were also involved in hosting COVID support days, which involved mobile testing clinics being set-up in Clunes and Creswick for those who may not have been able to commute to a testing centre. Through this personal protective equipment was provided to ensure everybody in the shire had access to it, while police were in attendance to answer any questions or address concerns.
This was all while continuing with their day-to-day duties - such as responding to emergencies and road policing.
Acting Senior Sergeant Flood is the Municipal Emergency Response Coordinator for the region, including under the council's Pandemic Municipal Operation Centre (PMOC) subcommittee.
Through this, he, as a member of Victoria Police, has met weekly with other agencies including Hepburn Shire Council, Central Highlands Rural Health and the Department of Health and Human Services to plan the evolving response to the pandemic and discuss changes to restrictions.
"This means that if there is an outbreak, then we are ready for it," he said.
While Hepburn has only had two cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic hit Australia, he said it had been "a fairly long haul".
"It's been a fairly stressful period and it gets to the point where you wait for The Courier's count of COVID cases by LGA every day, just hoping that you don't have one in yours but while being ready to respond to it if you do," he said, noting it was especially stressful when cases were rising elsewhere.
He said police would be continue to maintain a visible presence, especially with the return of Melbourne visitors.
"We want to achieve that balance with people coming to support businesses but we need to make sure it is responsible, respectful and while keeping everyone healthy and safe," he said.
He said one positive to come from the whole year was that the local police's relationship with other agencies had been strengthened.
"It's the sort of relationship that will stand up through other emergencies as well."