By Shane Scanlan
The City of Melbourne (CoM) has declared a public lane off-limits for its compliance officers because they feel threatened by rough-sleepers.
In an email to a local resident, local laws team supervisor Kosmo Kanatsidis said he had determined Rutledge Lane was too risky for his staff to enter.
“It is my determination that any work undertaken in the laneway is of high risk,” Mr Kanatsidis said to resident Mark Tidy on September 20.
Mr Tidy was seeking council assistance on a waste management matter. He said he was astounded by the council’s declaration that the lane was unsafe.
Mr Kanatsidis wrote: “On-street compliance staff have attended the above-mentioned location on multiple occasions and have observed individuals behaving in a disorderly and potentially threatening manner.”
“As frontline staff, our on-street compliance staff are required to make risk assessments to preserve their safety.”
“On these occasions staff have actioned their best judgement and decided the area was unsafe for investigation.”
“The rough sleepers (homeless) that occupy the laneway have also made it difficult for staff to enter as our staff have felt threatened. One staff member had coffee projected onto them in the course of their duties.”
Mr Tidy contacted CBD News street art columnist Adrian Doyle to express his surprise at the council’s assessment.
“I am astounded with this declaration of Rutledge Lane as ‘unsafe’ due to the fact that school children, international and domestic tourists, residents, locals, workers in adjoining restaurants, the public in general visit and pass through this laneway every single day and yet the City of Melbourne has declared the laneway ‘unsafe’ for its staff,” Mr Tidy said.
“Even more astounding is the fact that the City of Melbourne seems to be doing absolutely nothing in order to make this laneway ‘safe’.”
In his email to Mr Tidy, Mr Kanatsidis said his staff had also been verbally abused by graffiti artists in Rutledge Lane.
“As a team supervisor I ensure all staff eliminate any risk to their safety while executing the function of their role,” he wrote. “Your patience is appreciated while we continue to explore the safest, most effective means of addressing your concerns, however we are also mindful that an achieved outcome may not occur in the near future due to all of the reasons I’ve mentioned.”
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said it was incorrect to characterise Rutledge Lane as a “no go zone”.
The spokesperson said: “City of Melbourne staff do conduct regular proactive and reactive customer service outreach and operations, including compliance patrols, in Rutledge Lane and Hosier Lane.”
“On occasions, unfortunately our staff have experienced verbal and physical aggression from several graffiti taggers, rough sleepers and other persons.”
“As indicated in the letter sent to a private citizen by one of our compliance team supervisors, our staff are required to conduct a thorough risk assessment and prioritise their health and safety prior to entering any area.”
“On one occasion in Rutledge Lane, a City of Melbourne officer had a hot cup of coffee thrown at him – this is workplace violence and is not acceptable.”
“The safety of our staff in the workplace is paramount and we take all necessary steps to address any concerns which may include making a police report, requesting police presence, pairing up our staff or working with local businesses to address ongoing issues.”
“In consultation with waste service providers and Victoria Police, we are continuing to explore various options for addressing the issue of defaced waste bins.”
Local police Insp Craig Peel told CBD News: ” I’m not aware of CoM stopping staff going into Rutledge Lane and comment from same may assist.”
“If areas of the city are identified as being unsafe for whatever reason police will actively work with stakeholders to address these issues.”
“The photo is the first time I have seen the orange bunting up but I will go and see Youth Projects to see if they are having any issues. If issues around behaviour, safety or inappropriate come to my attention, I will implement local tasking to address.”