British Columbia

Business break and enters spike by 562% since COVID-19

New statistics from the Victoria Police Department show a major shift in crime rates during COVID-19 compared to this time last year. Meanwhile in Kamloops city officials point to court "inaction" as contributing factor.

New numbers from Victoria and Kamloops show substantial changes in the crime rates compared to last year

The Victoria Police Department says reports of break-ins at city businesses increased by more than 500 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. (Victoria Police Department/Facebook)

New statistics from the Victoria Police Department and Kamloops RCMP show a major shift in crime rates during COVID-19 compared to this time last year.

From March 15 to May 2, the number of business breaks and enters in Victoria and Esquimalt jumped from 12 last year to 80 this year — an increase of 567 per cent.

Robbery is also up 56 per cent along with mischief which rose by 40 per cent. Auto theft is up 42 per cent and theft from auto increased by 20 per cent.

The news isn't all bad though.

The number of reported sexual assaults was cut nearly in half, from 20 in 2019 to 11 this year. The number of domestic assaults also dipped and impaired driving is down as well.

The number of mental health related calls rose by 20 per cent and assaults ticked up by just three per cent.

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Police in the capital region are reminding residents to secure their valuables, leave nothing in plain sight within vehicles and to keep track of serial numbers for valuable items.

Kamloops mayor blames courts 'inaction' for crime surge

Meanwhile in Kamloops, increased break-ins and thefts from businesses was a focus of the May 5 city council meeting.

Mayor Ken Christian, citing recent RCMP statistics that show a 120-per-cent increase in break and enter offences over last year, said the increase is largely "crimes of opportunity" targeting businesses that are partially or completely closed. 

Christian said break and enter offences at businesses increased from 33 in 2019 to 73 in the weeks after the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions.  

He acknowledged that "suppressed economic activity" resulting from COVID-19-related restrictions may contribute to the opportunity and motive for increased crime. However, Christian was more critical of "the inaction of the provincial court in particular."

The city's director of community protective services told councillors that part of the problem is that offenders are receiving conditional releases from custody instead of jail time because of backups in the court system.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says he is part of a federal committee working to restore court operations and judicial hearings that have been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. (Christian Amundson/ CBC)

 "I know the chief judge of the B.C. Provincial Court raised that issue with the attorney general some weeks ago,"  Christian told the council meeting.

"I think if we can stumble through having a council meeting and now we're learning how to do a public hearing electronically, there's got to be a quicker reaction from the court system," he said.

'Immediate need' to restore court operations

On Friday, Attorney General David Eby announced that a federal government committee aimed at addressing the "immediate need" to restore and stabilize court operations held its first meeting by teleconference. Eby is a member of the committee which is chaired by Canada's Chief Justice Richard Wagner. 

 The announcement from the attorney general's office said a primary focus of the committee is resuming in-person judicial processes and hearings. 

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn, Deborah Wilson and Daybreak Kamloops