By Erin Pearson & Anna Prytz (The Age)
Police say dozens of youths who terrified residents of Taylors Hill overnight had gathered “to fight” and there is “a cohort” in the group who are known to officers.
Riot police converged on a basketball court and complex on Wednesday evening after reports a group of more than 100 young people were throwing rocks and had damaged a police car.
Melbourne CBD and West Divisions Commander Tim Hansen said some of the youths were known to police and that two groups had initially gathered to fight at Watergardens Shopping Centre before moving on to Taylors Hill.
“We had local police on the ground pretty quickly. Once we started to engage with these kids it looked like two groups have come together, there’s a bit of pre-existing tension between the two groups and they had agreed to meet up there to have a fight,” he told radio station 3AW.
“We take a zero tolerance approach to this behaviour and we’re really disappointed with it.”
He said detectives were investigating and arrests were likely in coming days.
“There is a cohort within that larger group that are known to us so we’ll be moving through the western suburbs today at different times speaking to people,” he said.
Residents have revealed their fear as they were told to stay inside, lock their doors and park their cars off the road and in garages.
Rocchina, whose home overlooks the park, said at 7pm her family became increasingly concerned as police arrived and surrounded the neighbourhood.
“When we built here in 2009 there was none of this trouble. We even paid more to build opposite the park for our kids,” she said
“We get teens here playing basketball sometimes but nothing like last night.
“They came to fight.”
The mother of two said she could hear one group chanting in a foreign language but couldn’t make out most of the yelling.
Some still had their school uniforms and backpacks on, she said.
“There was so many you couldn’t even see the basketball court. And others, about six, they were standing on top of the electricity box,” she said.
“It was terrifying, we were worried for our kids.
“They were out in packs.”
One resident of Bronte Way said more than 100 Sudanese youths had been across the road in the park and basketball court complex.
He said police were roaming the area and a helicopter was flying overhead when he came home as well as officers from the special operations group.
“This has happened multiple times… but it hasn’t happened for a good four or five months,” he said.
With several small children at home, the man – who spoke to The Age through the glass of his front door – said he was extremely concerned for his safety and was considering moving.
“That’s the reason we have roller shutters now. I’m not opening the door. I was told by police to get inside before.”
Police said they were making ongoing efforts to address community concerns about safety in the western suburbs. They said the Operations Response Unit and Public Order Response Team were called to “ensure public safety” and the group dispersed not long after they arrived.
Apart from damage to the police car there were no further issues, no injuries and no further threat to community safety.
Commander Hansen said no arrests had been made at the time as the short-term objective was “to make residents safe”.
He said the use of riot gear was a “dispersal tactic”.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
with Simone Fox Koob