Businesses and charities in the heart of Lismore’s flood-ravaged central business district are battling repeat break-ins as they try to recover from the region’s worst natural disaster on record.
- A Lismore business says they’ve had three break-ins in four weeks
- Thieves went to great lengths to steal steel generators and donations from a Lismore church
- CCTV captured the moment items were stolen from a store via a broken power point
“Once you’re done the first time, you’re like, ‘That’s it,'” said eyeglass store co-owner Bobby Bugden.
He said his business was robbed three times in the space of just four weeks.
“To get hit again four weeks later and also on consecutive nights, where they did it on a much larger scale, it’s been a pretty hard pill to swallow,” he said.
Bugden said a back door was opened during the first incident in late May, but losses were limited to a few optometry kits and the intruders “pretty much just made a mess.”
Four weeks later, he said he arrived to find the large steel door above the back door had been cut away with a bolt cutter or grinder.
The store had been “thoroughly cleaned,” including of prescription glasses.
Bugden said police came in and took fingerprints and set up cameras, but the next night it happened again.
“They came through the roof…and just finished us off.”
Staff slept in buildings.
Company owner Elton Cummings said he had four robberies at his two CBD stores during which generators were stolen and windows were broken in the immediate aftermath of the flooding.
“We put someone in the building to sleep so that wouldn’t happen (again), and we chased someone away,” Cummings said.
He said that decision was made because the building had no electricity or security.
Cummings said there has since been another break-in during which a thief climbed under the building and cut electrical wires to a power point on the floor, which blew a fuse.
They then pushed the plug and went into the store, grabbing products from the shelves.
“I was surprised at how organized they were,” Cummings said.
“The day before they would have had a look at what they could get and either they’re very smart and know how to take apart power outlets, or they’re just lucky they weren’t killed.”
‘I knew what they were doing’
The Center Church was recently stripped of a generator, furniture and donations.
Pastor Rebekka Battista said the thieves would have had to remove the heavy goods through a maze of raised wooden frames, riddled with nails, in the dark.
“They had to kick in the back door, walk and climb that structure, 100 feet from it, to get to the front door where we had the generators and we had the couches, and get them over this structure that was so dangerous. I’m surprised someone hasn’t been impaled,” she said.
“Obviously they had time and they knew what they were doing.”
Battista said the thefts were a huge blow to morale and delayed receiving donations for flood victims.
Police say property crime is down
Richmond Police District Officer Detective Inspector Grant Erickson said despite the reports, property crime in Lismore was down 14 percent, compared to the three months before the flood.
But he said police were “working with a couple of businesses that have been burglarized three times.”
“It’s definitely something that we’re very motivated to try to figure out,” Inspector Erickson said.
He said property crime in June had been cut in half compared to the same period last year and that police had put in place a number of measures, such as targeting critical areas and acting early on forensic identification, such as fingerprints. fingerprints and DNA.
CCTV network destroyed by floods
The network of CCTV cameras around Lismore CBD had been virtually inactive since it was submerged and damaged by flooding.
But Lismore City Council General Manager John Walker said that was until it was restored last week.
Walker said the restored policing would help reduce crime.
“When you have CCTV cameras, you have the images and the images can identify people and then you can use them in court,” he said.
“So we think there’s an important need to not only keep looters under control, but also all antisocial behavior.”
Walker said lighting towers would soon be placed around the CBD to improve nighttime visibility as well.