Victoria Police have defended their response to a violent brawl that caused panic in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday night but concede they were surprised by the number of people involved.
A group of about 100 men of African, Islander and Caucasian appearance converged on Federation Square after the Moomba fireworks ended and forced a shutdown of parts of the CBD.
Police said they were faced with “extreme provocation” and were forced to use capsicum spray and batons to break up the commotion.
Moomba revellers were forced to take cover as gang members provoked police and bystanders.
Onlookers ran from the area as chairs were used as weapons at one stage.
Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp said there was a posting on social media about possible trouble and they did a new risk assessment based on the information available.
“I will concede we were surprised by the number of mainly young men that came into in Federation Square on Saturday night,” he told 774 ABC Melbourne.
“We did have significant resources. There was information, not intelligence as such, we often see similar postings.
“We can’t afford to jump at shadows but I’d suggest we did have significant resources there.”
Assistant Commissioner Crisp said more than 33 members of the gang had been arrested and a number of them remained in custody.
He said some of those arrested were involved in “high-end” criminal behaviour, including burglary and theft.
‘Terrifying’ for families
Acting Police Minister Robin Scott said police would be sending “extra resources” to today’s Moomba parade to ensure the safety of the community.
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle assured locals they were safe at the parade.
“I can assure people today, whether it’s here at the parade or at the carnival or in the city, police resources, our event resources, our security resources, will make sure that families are safe when they come to Moomba, and that they enjoy it,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Crisp said the circumstances families would have faced on Saturday night would have been terrifying and many approached him on Sunday night asking if it was safe.
“I reassured them that we had revisited our plans and we did have additional resources and we were very focused on keeping Melbourne safe, not just for the remainder of Moomba but for events coming up,” he said.
“We will be learning from this experience and do our absolute best to ensure that we don’t see a repeat of this behaviour.”
Opposition police spokesman Edward O’Donohue said the gang violence demonstrated a need for more resources for Victoria Police.
“Clearly we have got a number of very disturbing community safety issues at the moment that require a strong police response,” he said.
“Yet at this time, [Premier] Daniel Andrews has allowed the number of police per capita to be cut and it’s time the police were given the resources they need.”
Police, public ‘taunted’ by gang members
Assistant Commissioner Crisp said initially there were reports there were two gangs involved but that did not eventuate.
“What we saw was well in excess of 100 young men that were running through crowds, taunting, provoking members of the public and members of Victoria Police, getting in our faces, putting their phones in our faces recording everything that we were doing and saying,” he said.
“We didn’t see that situation where you actually had one large group fighting against another large group. That’s what happened on the street.”