Vancouver police have changed their tone when it comes to a rise in violent shoplifting incidents in the city.
Nearly two weeks ago, Global News reported concerns from downtown businesses about a growing number of shoplifting incidents that have escalated into physical altercations.
Pressed about merchants’ concerns about the incidents at the time, a police spokesperson said the department “haven’t noticed an increase in thefts downtown.”
On Tuesday, that message changed, with police announcing a pair of arrests in alleged violent shoplifting incidents in recent days.
“We are seeing an increase in people being brazen and violent during shoplifts,” said Sgt. Aaron Roed.
In one case, police say a man tried to steal booze from the BC Liquor Store on Commercial Drive and threatened a security guard with a knife.
In the second case, two people tried to use bear spray to steal clothing from a Lululemon on West 4th Avenue, police allege.
What’s more, Roed revealed that the VPD had actually run a three-week sting project targeting shoplifters downtown last month, which resulted in 25 arrests.
Asked why in late November, police appeared to suggest there was no additional focus on robberies, when in fact there was. Roed cited operational security.
“Our task force is a deployment model that we don’t always let the public know,” said Roed. “We don’t want the thieves to know.”
Roed also said the total number of thefts for the year is on track to only slightly exceed 2018, and that what is new is the level of violence involved.
Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DTVBIA), said the business community was “very happy” that police were “putting some focus on recent property crime,” particularly where violence is involved.
But he said businesses continue to have significant concerns, and that there was plenty of work to do given how extreme the problem has become.
“No one has been paying attention to this, we’ve been expressing concerns about the increase in violent shoplifting and property crime,” he said.
“They’ve been getting away with it, and frankly, if you can get away with it, you’re going to continue doing it.”
Gautheir said he wants to see prosecutors and the B.C. court system be tougher on repeat offenders.
And he said the business community has been pressing police to give them a list and photos of prolific offenders.
“We’d love to share that information with our businesses, retailers that are being affected on a daily basis by chronic offenders,” he said.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong