CHRISTMAS should be a time of giving, but for Nicole Hill and her family, this year the reverse was true.
The Baxter family lost a car, boat and all their holiday gear in a brazen robbery at their Frankston-Flinders Rd home on Christmas night, just hours before they were to drive to the Murray River for a caravan holiday.
The thieves entered their kitchen and stole the keys to their fully loaded F250 utility before crashing through electric gates and driving off. The utility was later recovered at Cranbourne with $17,000 in damages.
An $80,000 speed boat and $18,000 in ski gear was never recovered, although that loss was covered by insurance.
Two of three off-road motorbikes valued at $12,000 were later recovered. The lost motorbike gear was valued at $8000.
The thieves cut a hole in the side of a shed to get the motorbikes out but were unable to steal Mr Hill’s prized Harley Davidson.
“We didn’t hear a thing,” Mrs Hill said Wednesday.
“It was raining overnight and we had some electrical appliances on and that must have muffled the sound.
“My husband got up at 7am and went outside and then came running back saying we had been robbed.
“The police didn’t even want to come out. After four phone calls they eventually arrived and took fingerprints.”
The family’s front gate was found 100 metres down the road.
A detective last week said the timing of the robbery – Christmas – and the pressure to police more serious crimes may have contributed to the delay in attending.
Mrs Hill said there had been “quite a few robberies” in their area at that time.
That robbery – and others like it in the Western Port region – has added to residents’ concerns that a lack of police numbers and the contentious vehicle pursuit policy is giving a green light to criminals.
Privately, police concede that crime gangs are ahead of the game with well-planned tactics and young members prepared to steal whatever they can.
The say the criminals may be comforted knowing they face a legal system seemingly determined to keep them out of jail and free to do it all over again.
Their modus operandi is simple: break into houses – often through unlocked doors – to steal car keys and other valuables and then use the vehicles to commit robberies and “drive-throughs” at service stations.
A Dandenong-based racket involves buying stolen cars from ice users for as little as $50-$100, then cutting them up and selling container loads overseas as scrap metal.
Hastings MP Neale Burgess says the community is being “overrun by criminals” and accuses the state government of being “soft on crime”.
“In 2010, prior to the change of government, it was commonplace to read about violence in the city, knife and machete attacks in King St, bikie and gangland wars and general unlawfulness across the state,” he said.
“At that time, under a Labor government, Victoria had the lowest number of police officers per 100,000 population of any state in Australia and that was one reason why Labor was removed from office in November 2010.”
He said the incoming Coalition government provided an extra 1900 police officers and 950 protective services officers (PSOs).
“Over [our] term police numbers went up, crime came down, hoon driving and graffiti reduced and general lawlessness diminished,” Mr Burgess said.
“Fast forward to today and where are we? We have a Labor government and, in less than 18 months, Victoria is again being overrun by criminals.
The emotional fall out among victims is more far-reaching than the loss of property in what has become a spate of aggravated break-ins across the peninsula.
Statistics provided by Mr Burgess show crime in Baxter was up 27.8 per cent; Bittern up 38 per cent; Crib Point up 10.3 per cent; French Island up 200 per cent; Langwarrin South up 27.8 per cent; Pearcedale up 2.2 per cent; Somerville up 2.2 per cent; and Tyabb up 27.5 per cent.
Hastings break-in victim Dianne Ashton and her husband returned from holidays to find their house “a dreadful mess” after an attempted robbery.
“I am not sleeping. It’s difficult to get over. I feel like selling up and moving out,” Ms Ashton said.
She said the number of recent nearby burglaries was “greatly concerning ordinary people in the street. The lack of a police presence and the closure of stations is only making the situation worse”.
“Our society is changing for the worse and I am absolutely sick to death of hearing excuses.”
Many residents are feeling violated and vulnerable, with one mother saying the fact that burglars were in her bedroom late at night “stealing the car keys about a metre from my head” was sickening.
“Lisa” – who asked that her full name not be used – said “someone’s going to get seriously hurt” in either a robbery or the aftermath after her husband lost a work van with $10,000 in tools and $40,000 in stock on 11 December.
The van was later reported at burglaries at Blairgowrie and as far afield as Lilydale, Fawkner and Broadmeadows over the following month, before it was stopped at a police roadblock on the Tullamarine Freeway on 10 January.
The day after the van’s theft her husband and sons had been alerted to its whereabouts through social media and raced to the Kinfauns Estate, Hastings, where they spotted it and called police. They were allegedly told to “back off or you will be liable for any damages” by police who took up the chase, only to back off themselves when speeds reached 140kmh.
The van was next seen at Somerville station. Her husband and son watched as the young robbers jumped in and then “tried to run my husband over”.
“There just aren’t enough police and it seems that their hands are tied,” Lisa lamented.
Tyabb resident Mark Slocombe unsuccessfully tried to follow burglars after they raided his Boes Rd property 12 months ago.
The earth moving contractor lost tools and equipment from his workshop valued at $20,000, but the loss would have been far greater if the $50,000 vehicle stolen had not been recovered later at Westpark.
“There have been lots of robberies in Boes Rd,” he said. “We think the criminals were renting a rural property and storing stolen property there.”
Mr Burgess said crime figures from December 2014 to December 2015 showed “an alarming increase in crime throughout the Hastings electorate”.
“Crime is up a disturbing 15.9 per cent in Casey and 4.2 per cent across the peninsula local government areas,” he said.
Mr Burgess said the state government had refused to provide police needed to open the Somerville station to the public and was attempting to close Hastings at night.
“After promising that it wouldn’t, this government is now closing down or reducing the hours of police stations across the state,” he said.
Southern Metro Region police superintendent Glenn Weir said there were “no plans” to change Hastings police station’s 24-hour operations.
He said Somerville police complex would not be manned 24 hours. “The complex houses a large contingent of investigators responsible for all crime investigations,” Superintendent Weir said.
“It is about to have the additional service of all Frankston and Mornington Peninsula highway patrol units based there, as well as a combined family violence team that will service all of Frankston and the peninsula.
“We are focused on crime reduction. Volume crime, such as burglaries and theft of, and from, motor vehicles, is our focus in Hastings, Mornington and surrounds.
“We have dedicated detectives for these crimes, but constantly need the public’s help to secure valuables, and to limit the opportunity for offending.”