Worried about staff safety, some West Broadway businesses are locking doors during the day

Business owners love the area, but say 'aggressive' people, break-ins and physical attacks are forcing them to invest in expensive security measures and lock their doors during the day.

'Aggressive' people, break-ins, attacks force investment in security measures: owners

Jennifer Stefanec has worked at Parsons Plumbing on Sherbrook Street for a decade. She says she's seen a 'dramatic change' in safety in the past three years. (Sam Samson/CBC)

It's just after 10 a.m. on a weekday. People are working inside of Parsons Plumbing on Sherbrook Street, just south of Portage Avenue, but the doors are locked.

A sign says "Please knock for assistance," and when you do, someone gets up and opens the doors.

"We've placed it up for the safety of our staff," said Jennifer Stefanec, one of the business's accountants. 

"We had within a one-week period two people stumble in … and it was rather difficult to try and get them out without them showing some signs of aggression towards us."

Parsons is one of many businesses in the area that have recently started locking up during their regular hours.

Sherbrook Suds Laundromat owner Moon Lee says he locks his doors 30 minutes before he closes up at 8 p.m. since he's had people bang on his door after hours and scare him and his employees.

"It's kind of crazy from 7 to 8 p.m. Lots of addicted people, they hang around this area," he said. "They're so dangerous, they're so aggressive. They don't listen to anything."

Moon Lee has owned Sherbrook Suds Laundromat since 2014. He's invested in several security measures over the years. His most recent change is locking his doors 30 minutes before he closes. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Lee has also invested tens of thousands of dollars in other security measures after bad break-ins in 2017.

He's installed metal bars on the front windows and in the ventilation system of his business, on Sherbrook just south of Broadway. He has multiple bright lights in front of his store, and he holds the only key for the large padlock on his bathroom door.

"I love this area. This area you can see lots of restaurants and bars," Lee said.

"It's not supposed to be a criminal thing. Last year, no robbery in my shop … but I'm still struggling with the kind of people that are always trying to get in my shop."

Convenience store locks up during day

On the other side of Portage Avenue, John Lee and his wife lock the doors to their store, Eben Convenience, and use a buzzer to let people in. Lee also has eight security cameras, metal shutters over his front door and windows, and a button he wears around his neck that, if pushed, will alert his security company.

It's all in response to a robbery that happened last month. 

"In the daytime, some guy grabbed a baseball bat, and he grabbed some cigarettes and ran away, so my wife was very scared," Lee said. "That's why we lock the door, and [when] some customers knock on the door, then we open the door."

Other businesses in the area have signs on their front doors indicating you need to knock or buzz to be admitted. Other signs say there are no public washrooms in the building.

CBC News spoke with a business owner who had recently been attacked and robbed, while another is investing in major renovations and security upgrades.

'Report all incidents to us,' police urge

Many businesses say they're trying to handle things on their own due to what they say are slow response times from police.

"By the time that [police] get here usually the person is gone," Stefanec at Parsons Plumbing said.

"If it was an escalated situation, definitely we would involve the police, but for something of this nature, nobody was touched, harmed or really threatened violently in any way, so we just managed to handle it on our own and now we lock our doors."

"The [Winnipeg Police Service] certainly acknowledges that the West Broadway area is currently experiencing challenges. These are believed to be closely associated to the current methamphetamine crisis," spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

"Whether we were able to respond in five minutes, or 45 minutes, the response from victims is to look at their property, do a security assessment, and typically do some target hardening," he wrote.

That could mean putting bars on windows, using stronger locks or installing electronic security — measures Carver said are often considered only after there's been a problem.

"Enhanced security measures should not preclude calling police for a crime or a safety concern," he said.

As for patrols, decisions on how to use those police resources are determined by analysis of crime data, Carver said.

"What the public reports to the police in terms of crimes and safety concerns will determine the resources allocated to an area. If businesses or homeowners don't report concerns, we can't properly respond.

"We encourage people to report all incidents to us," he said, noting people can make reports online.

'I wish there was something we could do'

Stefanec says in addition to now keeping their doors locked, Parsons has installed extra fencing, more lighting and cameras to try to deter people from injecting drugs around their building.

One employee also bought tongs and a needle-collection bin since they keep finding used needles in their ashtray.

Stefanec says Parsons and other businesses in the area aren't quite sure what to do next, adding there's been a "dramatic change" in the past three years when it comes to safety concerns.

The company is committed to staying in the area and working with the community, she says, but how to do that is the real question.

"I think this is a dilemma that many outreach programs try their best. I know that the Bear Clan, they do walks around the neighbourhood and try and help," she said.

"I wish there was something we could do. I don't know what it is we can do."