Nova Scotia

Break-ins at Halifax-area businesses hit five-year high in 2020

There has been a steady increase in break-ins at Halifax-area businesses since 2016 when there were 190. Last year there were 342, according to the Halifax Regional Police.

Rise in break-ins comes when many businesses are already struggling due to the pandemic

Halifax police say a man broke into the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation store on Agricola Street in February. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Smashed-in doors and stolen goods: it's a familiar sight and hard-hitting financial reality for some Halifax-area businesses as the number of break-ins continues to rise in the municipality.

Restaurants, liquor stores and even hobby shops have all been hit. 

"In a sense it is a personal violation," said Paul MacKinnon, the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. "Then of course there's the cost that comes with that, the cost of repairing a door or repairing a window ... and of course the cost of the product being stolen." 

The number of break-ins and thefts at Halifax-area businesses has been steadily increasing since 2016, according to data from the Halifax Regional Police. In 2019, there was a slight dip in break-ins, but the upward trend resumed last year.

2020 had the most break-ins, with 342. In 2019 there were 226, and back in 2016 there were only 190. There have been 50 break-ins in 2021, as of Feb. 9. The data covers areas patrolled by Halifax Regional Police.

MacKinnon said break-ins create additional costs for businesses at a time when revenues are down for many companies due to the pandemic.

Paul MacKinnon is the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"Looking at the numbers there's no question that they spike quite a bit in 2020. So not entirely surprising, there seemed like there was a lot more opportunity when the downtown and other areas were so quiet," said MacKinnon. 

The pandemic meant many businesses closed for extended periods, workers weren't going to their offices, and as a result there were fewer eyes on the street, making it easier for thieves to target businesses, said MacKinnon.

People may have also been more desperate for money early in the pandemic before federal government support programs kicked in, prompting them to steal, he said.   

One of the businesses recently hit was the Deck Box, a collectible card game store on Brunswick Street in Halifax's downtown. It was broken into overnight or in the early morning of Jan. 30.

Its front door was smashed in, then a thief or thieves busted through a glass display case to steal Pokemon cards. The door and the display cases cost about $2,000 each to replace. Most of the cost was covered by insurance.

The smashed-in display case at the Deck Box in Halifax. The thief or thieves were able to bust through this case but weren't able to break into a second case. (Submitted by Joshua Pyle-Carter)

The cards that were stolen were worth around $8,000, said Joshua Pyle-Carter, the owner of the Deck Box. But his insurance won't be able to replace the rarer cards he had in stock. 

"In our case a lot of our stuff is very unique because we deal in the collectible card game area. So while they may have only had a $20 cost to us, finding that item again is going to be far more expensive than that," he said.       

Pyle-Carter didn't let the break-in faze him. He cleaned up the glass, filed his insurance paperwork, then opened the store on time despite the theft.

"When the police showed up they asked us: Are we going to be closed for a couple of days to repair? And I told them there's no way we're going to be closed, because there's no way I'm going to let someone who's taken from me take from me again because they've stopped me from doing what I need to do," he said. 

Joshua Pyle-Carter is the owner of the Deck Box. (Submitted by Joshua Pyle-Carter)

Pyle-Carter said nothing can be done to prevent break-ins, and all business owners can do is try to control how much damage a thief does to their business. He said his alarm system and the tempered shatter-resistant glass on one of his display cases kept the thief from stealing even more merchandise.   

Still, MacKinnon believes police might be able to do more to prevent such crimes. 

It seems to him that Halifax police have reduced the number of officers walking the streets during the pandemic, moving many of them into cars to patrol neighbourhoods. MacKinnon said police in cars don't have the same presence as officers walking a beat. 

But MacKinnon admits he doesn't know how that change may or may not have impacted the number of break-ins. 

Some of the cards left in the smashed display case at the Deck Box. (Submitted by Joshua Pyle-Carter)

Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said MacKinnon is mistaken, and that officers have maintained their foot patrols throughout the pandemic. 

"Having our officers out interacting with the public is a role that provides a positive impact in our community. But this is only part of the way we police; we also have our community response officers and regular patrol officers," MacLeod said in an email. 

Halifax Regional Police refused to do an interview about the break-in data collected over the last five years. 

"As you can appreciate the numbers of reports vary from month to month and year to year due to many factors. It would be premature to attribute any change at this point to any specific factors, and as such we would not be able to speak to specific trends," said MacLeod.

After the break-in, Pyle-Carter said it was important for him to focus on the things he could control so he wouldn't feel so powerless. He focused on getting back to work, but he used his new door to poke fun at whomever it was that stole from him. (Submitted by Joshua Pyle-Carter)

MacKinnon hopes the break-in numbers will soon start to decrease as vaccinations roll out and life in the municipality starts to return to normal. 

At the Deck Box, Pyle-Carter said he's well on his way to recouping the losses from the break in. 

"It wasn't my favourite experience, but to be able to see the community's outpouring of support was really nice," he said.

"On the day we got broken into we were up and running the same day. With people just coming by checking in on us and wanting to support us we had a 50 per cent increase [in sales] over a typical day. Which is a good bit toward helping make everything even out."