British Columbia

Vancouver commercial break-ins up 147% during COVID-19 crisis

For Jason Overbo, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a crisis of crime, including one break-in where intruders took $20,000 in clothes. It's a dramatic example of the spike in break-and-enters that Vancouver is seeing while most people stay home.

Overall crime rate down 6.9 per cent in Vancouver, and calls to police are down 12 per cent

Owner of Brooklyn Clothing Co. Jason Overbo has had two break-ins at his Vancouver store since the COVID-19 crisis took off in B.C. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

For Vancouver shop owner Jason Overbo, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a crisis of crime.

Since B.C.'s coronavirus restrictions went into high gear in mid-March, his Yaletown business, Brooklyn Clothing, has been broken into twice, including a stunning burglary on March 23 where three intruders smashed his windows and made off with clothing worth $20,000 retail.

After 15 years in business on Davie Street, he said he's never had problems like this.

"This is absolutely the worst — not even close."

Overbo's experience is a dramatic example of a spike in commercial — and residential — break-and-enters that Vancouver has experienced during the pandemic, according to figures released by the Vancouver Police Department.

A security camera captured three suspects casing out Brooklyn Clothing in Vancouver's Yaletown district just before they broke in and stole $20,000 worth of clothing. (Submitted by Jason Overbo)

In the four weeks between March 18 and April 15, compared with the same period last year, Vancouver saw a 147 per cent increase in commercial break-and-enters. Residential break-and-enters were up 51 per cent.

"Stores are left unoccupied and so it gives an opportunity to thieves to break in," said Const. Tania Visintin, a spokesperson for Vancouver police.

Last week the police announced they had arrested 40 suspects in relation to commercial break-and-enters in the past few weeks. 

2 break-ins a week apart

There have been no arrests in the Brooklyn Clothing cases — not the $20,000 theft, or another exactly a week before, when his front window was also smashed and a display jacket stolen.

Overbo believes people struggling with addiction are more desperate right now, and with more people staying home there are fewer eyes on the street to notice crime. 

A hooded intruder, left, enters Brooklyn Clothing on Vancouver's Davie Street early in the morning of March 23. (Submitted by Jason Overbo)

"If you're up to something bad,  there's no witnesses, it's just easier" he said. 

Although the spikes in break-and-enter figures are high, they don't tell the whole story in terms of the overall crime rate seen in Vancouver during the coronavirus crisis.

Overall crime is down 6.9 per cent compared with the same period last year. And calls to police for aid are also down. by 12 per cent  between March 30 and April 12.

Visintin said she can only speculate as to the reason police aren't being called as much.

"I'm assuming people are home, and there's not as many people out, creating crime," she said. 

'Disheartening...but stay positive'

People staying home is also the reason TransLink police give for a drop in break-and-enter files near SkyTrain stations, down 29 per cent between March 6 and April 6, according to spokesperson Clint Hampton.

But crime is still happening, including at the Broadway SkyTrain Station where Ajay Dhingra co-owns the Booster Juice. 

On April 16, Dhingra says a thief suddenly snatched  a $250 electronic tablet used for Skip the Dishes orders, off the counter.

Although typically there is crime at the station, he says this one hurt. Dhingra says his outlet is not making any money by staying open — he is doing so just to serve the community, 

Ajay Dhingra, the co-owner of Booster Juice on at the Broadway SkyTrain station, is keeping his shop open to help the economy but says his juice bar isn't making any money at this time. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The theft did not cause a security-of-information breach, he said.

"It was disheartening," he said.  "It's kind of sad to see people doing these things ... but we've got to be optimistic and stay positive.

Crime statistics in the rest of Metro Vancouver are varied — or not yet available.

A security video snapshot shows a thief reaches for and then makes off with a $250 electronic tablet from the counter at Booster Juice at the Broadway SkyTrain Station. (Submitted by Booster Juice)

Most other major police forces are run by the RCMP, which is not releasing its data until the end of April for a quarterly period. 

Meanwhile, at Brooklyn Clothing, things have changed a lot. The store is locked and there are bars on the window.  It is still open, but due to physical distancing, only one customer is allowed in the store at a time. 

Insurance covered the cost of the clothing, but not the retail value. 

With files from Belle Puri