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Downtown businesses, police in London, Ont. focus on crime prevention amid coronavirus pandemic

Some downtown businesses have boarded up as a preventive measure to prevent break and enters during the pandemic.
Some downtown businesses have boarded up as a preventive measure to prevent break and enters during the pandemic. Brown & Dickson via Twitter

As the novel coronavirus pandemic shutters non-essential services in London, Ont., local business owners and police are taking preventive action to dissuade would-be criminals.

Chief Steve Williams receives a weekly report from the force’s crime analysts but says it’s too early to say if crime is on the rise.

READ MORE: $26K a month in rent with $0 coming in: London, Ont. business owner outlines impact of coronavirus

“Commercial break and enters are probably more susceptible to seeing an increase because businesses are closed and there’s less people downtown, for example, to keep that eye and to report suspicious activity,” he explains.

“We know that that particular crime category was increasing well before the pandemic. We saw a slight uptick, but then last week we saw a decrease.”

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Williams notes that police have deployed extra patrols in key areas known to be “prone to flare-ups.”

“Typically, with police statistics, we look at five years’ worth of data. Now, obviously, we’re not going to wait five years until we evaluate what’s happened in the last four weeks,” he said.

“We have crime analysts working full-time on this — we’ve moved them to work from home. They look at the numbers and ‘What did it look like last year during this week?’ versus ‘What does it currently look like?’ and it’s really week to week.

“The downtown and Old East Village are typically areas where we can see the swings in the numbers so we shift resources to those areas proactively and we did that a few weeks ago. That may be why we saw a dip last week, but again, they could be up next week, so really you’re looking at a couple of months, I think, before we can draw any firmer conclusions.”

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Those downtown may have noticed boarded-up businesses along Richmond Row, including at Brown & Dickson Bookstore.

“There were some break-ins down the street,” explained bookseller Jason Dickson. “We were just being as cautious as possible.”

Dickson said he and co-owner Vanessa Brown have a good relationship with their business neighbours, Grow & Bloom Co. and Prince Albert’s Diner, and the businesses made the decision together to board up the storefronts.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s very ugly to look at and it communicates a dire message emotionally, but we felt that we didn’t really have much of a choice.”

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Downtown London executive director Barbara Maly says the BIA just completed “significant outreach” with its members. A variety of issues were raised, including concerns about crime.

“We are working very closely with police services, foot patrol and the city to address these concerns,” Maly said on London Live with Mike Stubbs on Global News Radio 980 CFPL.

“We’ve been personally reaching out to all those who we’ve heard have had instances such as vandalism crime and just trying to determine what more we can do for them and making sure they understand the protocol as well as it relates to reporting various types of crime.”