Vancouver police are releasing some shocking details about the number of thefts in the downtown core Monday following a month-long anti-shoplifting campaign.
Police arrested almost 200 offenders and recovered more than $75,000 in stolen property.
They investigated 323 incidents, 23 of which involved a weapon, made 195 arrests, recommended 330 criminal charges, recovered $75,052 in merchandise and seized 35 weapons.
“Business owners and their staff continue to struggle with prolific, and often violent thieves, who seem to think they can steal with impunity,” Sgt. Steve Addison said in a release.
“Since Nov. 4, a dedicated group of VPD officers has worked directly with retail staff in the downtown core to identify and apprehend shoplifters. The results are alarming.”
Incidents of note included a 48-year-old man trying to steal a bottle of perfume valued at $184. When a 22-year-old staff member followed the man out of the store, he turned and charged at them with a metal chain. The suspect was later arrested and charged with theft and assault.
Another suspect who was already on probation for theft was caught stealing a $2,500 laptop from a computer store on West Georgia Street, police said. He was taken to jail but later released and told to attend court another day. Police said the man has 69 criminal convictions and was re-arrested 11 days later when he tried to steal $60 in hair tongs.
“It’s troubling for our officers to see the same offenders – many of whom are living with complex social needs like drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness – repeatedly getting arrested for such low-level crimes,” Addison added.
“Sadly, 60 per cent of the people arrested during the month-long campaign said they did not have a permanent place to sleep, and many told us they were planning to sell the stolen goods either online or in the Downtown Eastside to make a few bucks.”
This investigation has contributed to “renewed concerns that criminal networks are trafficking massive amounts of stolen property in the Downtown Eastside,” police said in a release.
Vancouver police’s anti-fencing unit initially launched an undercover sting in April, sending undercover officers to the Downtown Eastside.
Much of the criminal activity centres around the open-air street market on East Hastings Street, between Columbia and Carrall streets, police added, and the local residents who used to make some money by selling second-hand goods are being pushed out by people who go there to “traffic property.”
“These officers saw people openly selling drugs and stolen property – everything from power tools and electronics still in-store packaging to cosmetics, designer clothing, and sunglasses that still had anti-theft devices attached,” Insp. Gary Hiar, the officer in charge of VPD’s General Investigation Section, said in a release
“Using sophisticated investigative techniques, detectives confirmed that thousands of dollars in stolen property are being moved in and out of the Downtown Eastside every day by people who don’t even live in the community.”
Insp. Alison Laurin, who oversees VPD’s patrol deployment in the Downtown Eastside said the demand for stolen goods is being fuelled by greed and desperation.
The BC Prosecution Service has now approved charges against two men police believe were using the Downtown Eastside street market to traffic stolen property.
Surrey resident Nezamoddin Jelali, 60, has been charged with three counts of possession of stolen property and one count of trafficking stolen property, for incidents that occurred between April 20 and June 23, police said. He was arrested by Vancouver police on June 24, and released from custody pending his next court appearance. Jelali’s release conditions prohibit him from entering Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Vancouver resident Aaron Castillo-Anguiano, 43, has been charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and two counts of possession of proceeds of crime, for incidents that occurred between April 20 and June 15. He was arrested on June 16 and released from custody pending his next court appearance. Castillo-Anguiano is now banned from all flea markets and any place in Vancouver that deals in second-hand goods, as part of his release conditions.
Vancouver police said more arrests could be coming as investigations continue.