Robbery at Victoria toy store impacted by Plaza Hotel fire prompts calls for more police

The damage seen from inside Cherry Bomb Toys in Victoria after thieves broke in through the back door and stole a donation box for the National Toy Museum early on Dec. 13, 2019. Cherry Bomb Toys/Facebook

A Victoria toy store that was already having a rough year was robbed late last week, and its owner says it’s time police and council do more to curb crime downtown.

Cherry Bomb Toys owner B. Woodward discovered the store’s back door smashed in early Friday morning, and a donation box full of money was stolen.

READ MORE: Northern B.C. man arrested after using hatchet in violent robbery in Victoria

The donation box supports the National Toy Museum on the upper level of the building, which houses a collection of rare and valuable toys.

“It’s one of the things that we use it to keep the museum going,” Woodward said Sunday. “The goal is for it to be in a larger location so that it brings more families … but this just puts a little bit of a damper on that spirit.”

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Woodward says two suspects cut through the store’s security gate and broke through the windowed door, fleeing once the alarm went off. No other items were taken.

No arrests have been made, and Victoria Police say the investigation is ongoing.

The store backs into an alley once shared by the old Plaza Hotel, which burned down in a massive fire last May that police are investigating as an arson.

The fire and the toxic fumes and smoke from the decades-old building forced the store to close for a month.

READ MORE: Caretaker still missing 5 days after massive downtown Victoria hotel fire

Woodward says crime has always been an issue in the alley, as drug users and homeless people frequented the abandoned hotel and the surrounding area.

While the situation improved after police and the city fenced off the property in the wake of the fire, he says crime shot back up dramatically once the building was demolished later this year.

“They boarded up the surrounding area, but they didn’t do anything with the alley to gate it up and make it safe again,” Woodward said.

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“So in the past couple of weeks, we’ve had all kinds of weird traffic happening in the back, and thus this issue happens because there was nothing there to deter them from getting in the alley.”

Woodward says it took until Friday afternoon for police to attend the store, after telling him to take pictures of the crime scene and clean up to open for business.

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New developments in Victoria hotel fire – May 10, 2019

He doesn’t blame police for the slow response, however, adding other businesses in the area also saw break-in attempts that same morning and overnight.

But he adds the department routinely has their hands full, particularly with regular commercial break-ins downtown.

“They have their days slammed, their call center is just overrun with too many calls that they don’t have enough manpower to deal with it,” he said.

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“It’s a constant problem. And we need more police to deal with this.”

READ MORE: Victoria police confirm arson sparked massive fire at downtown Plaza Hotel

In a statement, Victoria Police said the lead investigator for the file has requested an increase in patrols for the downtown area, including the alley behind Cherry Bomb.

But a spokesperson admitted call volumes have increased, with patrol officers often finding 20 to 30 calls already waiting for them when they start their shifts. Police are also forced to prioritize life threatening calls, pushing property crimes and patrols down the list.

“Our calls for service and the severity of crime has increased which is why the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board requested additional officers and resources in our budget request to both Councils,” the department said.

“We continue to work with both Councils to try to find innovative ways to meet the needs we have with the resources available. It’s certainly a challenge.”

Victoria’s 2020 draft budget calls for an additional $2.1 million for the Victoria Police Department to cover operations and six new officers approved by the province last year.

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Victoria councillor defends proposed large council pay raise – Dec 5, 2019

But Woodward says council needs to focus their energies on making the downtown core safer.

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“What they really should be focusing on, instead of looking at things like do they need a pay raise, should we be chatting with the UN about (climate change) … before we jump out and start dealing with worldly events, let’s look at what’s in our backyard,” he said.

With the robbery capping off what’s been a difficult year for Cherry Bomb Toys, Woodward says he’s not giving up his fight to ensure his business and the downtown area are protected.

“I’m feeling a little a feeling a little neglected, to be honest, by our council, our city. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop and give up,” he said.

“Our city is one of the most amazing places in the world. We just need to take care of it a little better so that everybody feels a little safer.”

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