Councillor assaulted amid rising CBD crime

By Brendan Rees

A City of Melbourne councillor has sounded the alarm over a rise in crime after he was assaulted outside his CBD shop. 

Cr Jason Chang said a man, whom he described as drug-affected and “rough looking”, filled up a bag of alcohol before fleeing his Japanese grocery store and restaurant Calia Emporium on Lonsdale St at around 5pm on May 20.

He said the shop alarm went off and he and other good Samaritans chased the man on the street.

The incident, which was captured on CCTV, showed Cr Chang and others pinning down the man outside the store before he got away.

“We were involved in a scuffle and that’s when I was injured slightly as he tried to escape,” Cr Chang said after he sustained a sprained and swollen arm. 

He said drug affected thieves had been repeatedly targeting his store and declared “enough is enough”.

“This happens so much, the same people doing it over and over again,” he said. “We can’t just stand by and let injustice or let people break the law.”

“I think the safety of everyone else is the most important thing, these people just can’t get away with doing it over and over again.”

After posting his assault to social media, Cr Chang said he had been “inundated with local businesses saying it [crime] happens on a daily basis”.

“I’ve had people say they’ve had their delivery scooters stolen from in front of their stores; people just rob them,” he said. 

“They don’t even bother calling the police now because they say nothing will happen.”

Cr Chang said he recognised the man entering his shop and stealing on previous occasions, and feared crime would escalate. 

“This needs to be addressed immediately. Businesses are already suffering; we’re trying to attract business to the CBD but how can we do that when theft is so rampant?”

It comes after a briefing from Melbourne East Police to CBD resident group EastEnders in May, where residents were told crime in the central city had increased. 

Residents 3000 president Rafael Camillo also voiced his concerns after he was verbally abused while walking with his husband in the CBD at around 4pm on May 22.

He said two men that appeared affected began hurling homophobic abuse at them and “calling us names out of the blue”. 

“I didn’t know what to do but it makes me very angry. You feel weak and there’s nothing you can do,” he said, after they were told “you should be ashamed”.

“It’s not the first time, it’s constant,” he said, adding he was also abused for wearing a mask during lockdown.

He feared authorities were “unable to fix this problem” and questioned how “we will feel safe?”

“In Melbourne, I don’t feel secure anymore. We need to protect our community.”

CBD restaurant owner Gideon Sanusi said he felt “insecure” after thieves stole his delivery scooter on Lonsdale St in April.

“We parked it out the front of the Emporium store because we were delivering food to our customers,” he said.

After viewing CCTV, he said, “It was locked in the bike rack but the guy just came up with a bolt cutter and started opening bikes and scooters.”

“We thought we would’ve been safe with everyone around,” he added when the incident happened at around 2pm. 

Another trader on Lonsdale St said drug and alcohol affected people loitered regularly around the front of their shop.

Ratepayers Victoria president Dean Hurlston said authorities had a responsibility to make public spaces safe for everyone, and “inspire confidence” in returning people to the CBD.

“We need to create the best conditions for traders to deliver people back to the city and to help employers who are investing in millions trying to get their employees to feel safe to go back to the city,” he said.

“The CBD and inner Melbourne should be fundamentally safe. What is the City of Melbourne and other councils doing to put that first?”

In a statement, police said it was investigating the theft at Cr Chang’s shop.

“Investigators have been told an unknown man stole drinks from a store before taking off on foot about 4.50pm,” it said.

“A male staff member ran after the man and a scuffle ensued before the offender ran off.”
“Melbourne East uniform police are investigating the incident and it remains ongoing.”

Cr Chang said he would meet with local police and council officers “to see what we can do in the future to mitigate this”.

“I think awareness is a key issue we need to create. I think a lot of businesses are suffering the same issue if not more and kept silent,” he said •

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