WHILE people are being urged not to leave their homes this Easter, authorities will be out in force to ensure community members are not flouting social restrictions or breaking road rules.
As Operation Sentinel continues across the state, with police ensuring that community members are only leaving their homes for four reasons - for food and supplies, medical care or care giving, exercise and work or education - police are also preparing to launch their long weekend road safety operation.
Four day Operation Nexus is a statewide multi-unit road safety operation held each Easter, but this year it will look a little different.
In addition to their continuing Operation Sentinel duties, which include conducting spot checks on homes and businesses, ensuring people are not gathering in groups, that public order is upheld as well as proactive patrols, police will also focus on driving down road trauma this weekend.
While there is less traffic across the state at the moment, people are continuing to die on Victorian roads, with more than 75 lives lost so far this year. It is only marginally less than the number of deaths on Victorian roads at the same point in 2019.
Operation Nexus will involve a highly visible police presence across communities, with an enforcement focus on the biggest contributors to road trauma across the state at the moment - speed, seat belt and distraction offences, especially using mobile phones while behind the wheel.
Every police vehicle you see on the road is potentially a booze bus.Acting Senior Sergeant Stuart Gale
And while booze buses are not operating due to coronavirus transmission concerns, road policing units are continuing to conduct preliminary breath and drug tests.
According to Acting Senior Sergeant Stuart Gale of Ballarat Highway Patrol, while there has been an overall decrease in traffic on the roads, there has not been a decrease in offending.
One particular issue in the region has been a noticeable spike in drink driving, so focusing on drink and drug driving offences will also be another focus for local police.
"Every police vehicle you see on the road is potentially a booze bus," he said.
With a number of deaths on roads in this region already this year and the state road toll not far behind the horror number of last year, while police are pleased the number is down, Acting Senior Sergeant Gale said it was not enough.
"It's nowhere near the number we want it to be at. We're not doing a lot better than last year and last year was terrible."
When the stage three restrictions were first introduced last week, Acting Senior Sergeant Gale said there were noticeably less people travelling on roads across the region. But while working at the weekend, he noticed that vehicular traffic had increased again.
This is a concern for police as the Easter period draws closer as it is usually a busy period on the roads as people travel to holiday destinations, camp sites, for a hike at a national park or for a weekend of fishing or other outdoor activities.
This Easter all recreational activities are off the cards due to COVID-19, and authorities including police units will be out ensuring the strict isolation requirements, as stated by the Chief Health Officer, are abided by.
Following hundreds of people flocking to national parks around the region in recent weeks, several have now been closed, but others, including other known areas of congregation such as shopping centres, will continue to be subject to patrols.
The Conservation Regulator and Parks Victoria will also continue its own patrols of public land this weekend to ensure the public are aware of physical distancing measures and that camping on public land is not one of the four reasons to leave home.
All major western Victorian national, state, and coastal parks will be closed from midnight on April 8.
Just last weekend, patrols both from the air and on the ground across the state identified about 50 campsites set up on public land.
Acting Senior Sergeant Gale said community members should think about how essential the task they are leaving the house for is and if it fits with the four acceptable reasons, as well as other factors such as if it is necessary for multiple family members to hop in the car to fulfil it.
Earlier this week, Superintendent Jenny Wilson told The Courier that police would pay "attention" to anyone who was thinking of travelling to the region to holiday, as she urged people to stay home.
It came after Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton urged Victorians to stay at home if they can this Easter. He also said that regional communities had a right to feel concerned about the potential for holiday-makers travelling to their towns.
Police will also be keeping an eye on businesses, and have encouraged business owners who may have shut their doors to take safety measures like removing cash from the premises and reviewing security systems just in case.
With more people emerging from two-week isolation periods, police resources will begin refocusing on business districts in Ballarat and Moorabool police service areas - this includes small towns like Creswick and Clunes.
Moorabool's Acting Inspector Alistair Nesbit said closed shops were more vulnerable, but the extra patrols will help stamp out crime.
"It's a particular task to make sure people are comfortable, we're trying to stop the criminal activity that might occur - there were three incidents in the Hepburn area recently, after hours burglaries," he said.
"It's something we're focusing on, so people are comfortable they can leave the business after hours.
"Of those people required to self-isolate, the number is reducing because of the timeframe, so as that task drops away, it allows us to do other tasks."
He added police would also be checking open businesses to ensure they were complying with social distancing rules.
"Operation Sentinel has a number of tasks - checking on people in self-isolation in their homes, ensuring people follow the guidance from Victoria's chief health officer, but also that'll expand into patrolling of commercial premises in business hours," he said.
Ballarat's Inspector Dan Davison said he wanted to assure the community it was "business as usual" for police.
"We've got plenty of police on patrol, and additional members tasked with the COVID-19 response work," he said.
"They're also keeping an eye on vulnerable businesses and places to make sure crime stays under wraps."
Tips from Moorabool police:
- Businesses are more familiar with their area; If you see something usual or out of place, contact us.
- Ensure you are on top of your access control. e.g key register.
- Remove all cash and portable valuables from the premises. Once empty leave cash draws and safes open to demonstrate status. Signpost this status if possible.
- Check regularly that your existing security measures (e.g. CCTV, alarms) are operating and maintained.
- Maintain regular contact with your security contractor so they are up to date with your business status.
- If you can, remove product to another secure area which is occupied
- Make sure local police have your up to date after hours contact details
- If you notice suspicious activity, phone Triple Zero (000).
For more information on COVID-19, visit dhhs.vic.gov.au/novelcoronavirus or phone the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398 for advice if you are displaying symptoms.
- with Alex Ford
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.