Police arrest eight in crackdown on youth crime linked to thefts from fitness centres

Victoria Police has arrested eight youths following an investigation into a series of alleged high-harm crimes linked to thefts from fitness centres in the western suburbs.

Wayward Taskforce and Altona North Divisional Response Unit detectives have worked hard to identify and locate persons of interest in relation to a series of incidents that have occurred in the north-western and south-eastern suburbs since late February.

Detectives executed warrants in Tarneit, Truganina, Werribee, Wyndham Vale, Point Cook and Sunbury this morning.

Seven males and one female have been arrested and are facing more than 30 charges in relation to offences including home invasion, burglary, armed robbery, assault, theft of motor vehicles, petrol drive-offs and other traffic-related offences.

Those charged are aged between 14 and 20-years-old. Six of the youths have been remanded to appear at a children’s court. Two have been released pending further enquiries.

Among those charged were a 15-year-old Sunbury male and 16-year-old Tarneit male following an alleged violent armed robbery in Tarneit on Monday 2 March. A teenage victim was taken to hospital with serious head injuries following the alleged incident.

The males have been charged with intentionally cause serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, robbery and other offences. They will front a children’s court this afternoon where an application will be made for them to be remanded in custody to appear before a children’s court at a later date.

Westgate Investigation & Response Inspector Rhonda Brown said police had been working around the clock to bring those targeting gyms to steal cars and commit further serious crimes before the courts.

“We’ve been seeing small groups of two or three youths target fitness centres across Melbourne to steal valuables such as wallets, purses, phones and keys,” Insp Brown said.

“Typically, offenders have entered businesses in pairs or groups by posing as gym members or tail-gating customers through entry points. Once inside, one will use the equipment, posing as a customer, while the other seeks out unsecured valuables or opens lockers and steals items.

“This offending has led to serious high-harm offences being committed, which have a significant impact on the community’s safety and feelings of safety. That’s why our detectives have been working around the clock to investigate these crimes and hold offenders to account.”

“Our message to those committing these offences is clear – police will hunt you down and we will ensure you do not continue to inflict harm on the Victorian community.”

Police are working with fitness centres across Melbourne to address security issues and implement crime prevention measures such as lockable storage devices and CCTV.

In addition to the work police and gyms are doing, Victoria Police is asking the community to exercise caution and secure their valuables when attending gyms and leisure centres.

• Do not leave your bags unattended

• Where available, use the secure lockers provided

• Do not allow anyone to use your access pass, even if they have ‘forgotten’ theirs

• If you witness suspicious behaviour, alert a staff member immediately

• For immediate police attendance, call Triple Zero (000).

Police are also reminding the public to be aware of potentially suspicious interactions regarding online marketplace transactions.

“We’re also seeing a trend whereby offenders are utilising online marketplaces to identify victims who are looking to buy or sell items such as mobile phones,” Insp Brown said.

“People are turning up to either buy or sell a mobile phone and being violently robbed of that property or the cash they’ve brought to purchase an item and seriously injured.

“We have seen a trend of these offences occurring in residential areas which are normally isolated with little people or little public activity around. They are places where there are no CCTV cameras around and often in the vicinity of parks and laneways where other people can come and get involved in the transaction.”

If you’re planning on using an online site to buy or sell a mobile phone there are a few simple preventative measures you can take:

• Arrange to meet the buyer in a public place where there are CCTV cameras e.g. a shopping centre

• Consider what time of day you arrange to meet the buyer. Choose a time when there’s likely to be a lot of people around

• Take a friend or a family member with you when you go to meet the buyer

• Coordinate the exchange via phone call rather than text message.

If you need immediate police assistance always call Triple Zero (000). Report any suspicious behaviour to your local police station or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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