'Insult to injury:' Hamilton police see 131% jump in breaking and entering during COVID-19

Hamilton police say criminals have adapted, changing how they break the law during COVID-19.

The city is seeing fewer crimes than normal, with a 12.5% dip in reported crime

Hamilton police have seen a dip in crime overall, but a spike in criminals breaking into closed businesses during COVID-19. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Hamilton police have seen a massive jump in breaking and entering and a rise in stunt driving since mid-March when COVID-19 began to put the city in lockdown.

With fewer people out in public and barren businesses closed because of physical distancing measures, it seems criminals are also engaging in fewer public crimes.

A release from the service shows commercial breaking and entering crimes are up by 131 per cent since March 16.

Criminals are targeting businesses now that they are empty because of COVID-19. (Jennifer LaGrassa/CBC)

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the number was surprising, but he was unsurprised to hear criminals are adapting.

"It's very unfortunate these criminals obviously aren't sensitive to the needs of these businesses they're robbing from and it's particularly harsh when businesses are already struggling with the economic climate we're in," he said.

"It's adding insult to injury."

Police say they are increasing patrols around closed businesses and are engaged with local business improvement areas and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Though, affected shops likely won't see any additional recuperation through COVID-19 aid.

Hamilton police have seen a rise in stunt driving since COVID-19. (Submitted by Hamilton Police Service)

Stunt driving is up 23 per cent, prompting police to start a road safety campaign on May 4.

Eisenberger said the "speeding idiots" are putting peoples lives in danger.

"We discourage people from using our roads as race tracks ... I don't know what people are thinking, clearly they're not thinking," he said.

"They're not only not thinking about themselves, but everyone else out and about getting some outdoor time, walking on sidewalks and cycling."

Hamilton police also tell CBC News the service has seen a 23 per cent increase in arsons since last year, but haven't seen a marked difference since COVID-19 despite a string of fires to downtown businesses last week.

Overall, crimes are down in Hamilton

The city is seeing fewer crimes than normal, with a 12.5 per cent dip in reported crime.

"It's a positive and I'd like to think that can continue," Eisenberger said.

Hamilton police deputy chief Frank Bergen said they have been able to do better police work and have increased staffing because of fewer officers training new members and going to meetings.

"The silver lining is we're able to see offenders and criminality much clearer because it hasn't been hidden, it's out in the front," he said.

"We're going to find you."

Police report seeing the biggest drops in assaults and driving under the influence incidents.

There has been a 26 per cent drop in assaults and 22 per cent drop in DUIs.

Domestic violence appears roughly the same in the stats, but Bergen said it was a "falsehood."

"We are finding that in fact there are family troubles and our calls are increasing ... but resulting charges have not increased."

"We're not always certain statistics can tell the true picture because we don't have the ability to be behind the walls of people's environments."

Fraud is relatively the same, but vehicle thefts, weapons charges and traffic violations are all down.

The service also says it has received 1,089 calls related to non-essential businesses operating and people ignoring physical distancing measures.

As of Friday, there have been 34 tickets issued related to these calls.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.