COVID-19

Paralyzed By COVID-19, Downtown Businesses Now Contending With Crime Wave

For businesses already thrown into dire straits by COVID-19, a break-in could spell bankruptcy

By Sean Craig
April 4, 2020
COVID-19

Paralyzed By COVID-19, Downtown Businesses Now Contending With Crime Wave

For businesses already thrown into dire straits by COVID-19, a break-in could spell bankruptcy

By Sean Craig
Apr 4, 2020
The Vitamin Shop on Broad Street, one of several downtown businesses that have boarded up their windows to protect against a spike in break-ins (Photo by Sean Craig).
COVID-19

Paralyzed By COVID-19, Downtown Businesses Now Contending With Crime Wave

For businesses already thrown into dire straits by COVID-19, a break-in could spell bankruptcy

By Sean Craig
April 4, 2020
Paralyzed By COVID-19, Downtown Businesses Now Contending With Crime Wave
The Vitamin Shop on Broad Street, one of several downtown businesses that have boarded up their windows to protect against a spike in break-ins (Photo by Sean Craig).

Break and enters have skyrocketed in Victoria and Esquimalt amid the COVID-19 lockdown, and businesses are now asking the provincial government to step in and protect stores before the crime wave gets worse.

According to the Victoria Police Department, which oversees both municipalities, break and enters from January 1 to March 26 were up 119 per cent over the same period in 2019.

“In the last week — March 19 to 26, 2020 — there has been a notable increase in the number of break and enters to vacant businesses in the downtown,” said Constable Bowen Osoko, a department spokesperson.

As public health orders to stop the spread of coronavirus have increasingly forced businesses to close, city centres have been left unpopulated and shops are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

“Fewer eyes and ears on our streets, coupled with the local drug supply shortage due to the border closure, has created a breeding ground for prolific property crime offenders,” wrote Teri Smith, the president of Business Improvement Areas of British Columbia (BIABC), in a March 31 letter to Mike Farnworth, the province’s Minister of Public Safety. “Our once vibrant commercial districts are quickly becoming boarded up ghost towns.”

Outlooks men's clothing store on Yates, with its windows now papered over as a security measure (Anne Catherine for The Capital)

The BIABC has asked the province to consider additional resources to help business districts, including but not limited to additional patrols to deter criminal activity and the implementation of safe drug supply programs.

Farnworth’s office referred a request for comment to B.C.’s new COVID-19 Joint Information Centre. The Centre said policing falls under municipal jurisdiction, and referred to individual municipalities and local forces.

For their part, Osoko said Victoria Police have increased the presence of officers in downtown Victoria and Esquimalt — the force is responsible for both municipalities — as well other areas where businesses are concentrated.

“Our community resource officers are working with the business communities to help target and reduce the risks,” he added.” We’re also making sure potential thieves are getting the message that we’re out there, looking out for businesses and making arrests as needed.”

A downtown gift shop displaying a "no cash on premises" sign to deter thieves (Anne Catherine for The Capital).

Meanwhile, many storefronts on major strips in Victoria are covered window-to-window with construction paper, sheets, posters, plywood or other makeshift obstructions to keep potential vandals out. 

Notes taped to doors have two common refrains: “no cash on site” and “all valuables removed.”

With one of its windows smashed in and temporarily boarded up, Wild Coffee on Yates Street was still serving drinks out the front door on Friday. A barista said they’re waiting on a glass repairman to work his way through a backlog before it can be fixed.

Hughes Clothing showing its doors boarded up (Anne Catherine for The Capital)

The Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) has been sharing tips and security ideas with its members about securing their inventory and buildings during the pandemic, as well as contacting individual storefronts that it’s identified as at risk.

Nevertheless, break-ins remain an acute threat to their long-term survival and one incident could be the difference between a shop shutting down for good.

“The tragedy is businesses are going to have such a struggle to remain even moderately viable until we get to the point of recovery that having your inventory stolen or windows damaged — and factoring in the costs of insurance deductibles — could be enough to tip some businesses over,” said Jeff Bray, the DVBA’s executive director, in an interview. “So it’s a particularly heinous activity.”

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sean@capnews.ca