Victoria police are trying a different approach with prolific and new offenders arrested in a recent shoplifting crackdown.
Earlier this month, VicPD released concerning arrest numbers during an eight-day operation called ‘Project Lifter.’
During the blitz, officers made 109 arrests and recovered about $29,000 in stolen goods.
Of the people arrested, four were arrested multiple times during the project, and 21 had outstanding warrants. Individuals who were arrested had a total of 1,103 previous criminal convictions.
Since then, some in the business community have argued that holding those arrested behind bars while awaiting trial is the fix to the problem, adding that they can’t re-offend right away.
Guy Felicella, a harm reduction and recovery expert, said that won’t solve anything.
“They are in custody for six months, we release them in six months, they do it again. You put them in for a year, they get out, they do it again. You put them in for another year, they get out and do it again,” Felicella explained.
In an interview with CHEK News, Felicella said he struggled on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for about 20 years before getting the right supports, getting sober and becoming an advocate.
He said the crime cycle is something he faced, explaining he did desperate things in order to survive.
Felicella posted a story on X, formerly known as Twitter, where he explained how he once had to break into an apartment building to get out of the cold.
“I tried to get into a shelter but got kicked out for using drugs. With nowhere to go, I broke into an apartment and slept in the laundry room,” the post reads.
“Hours later, I was arrested while sleeping and charged with break & enter, but if I’d stayed out in the cold, I would have died.”
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I am not sure I would have survived if I didn't break some laws while homeless. Decades ago, there was a massive snow storm in Vancouver – everything was shut down and everyone was asked to stay inside. I tried to get into a shelter but got kicked out for using drugs … into the…
— guyfelicella (@guyfelicella) November 9, 2023
He told CHEK News he was released later that morning, back into the same cold streets where he would have to re-offend to survive.
“Once you get wrapped up into that criminal justice system, it is probably one of the most challenging things to break free,” Felicella said.
VicPD echoed the same sentiment in its ‘Project Lifter’ operation.
Officers offered those arrested and charged access to housing and addictions supports with the goal of breaking the cyclical nature of these types of crimes.
“We recognize that enforcement doesn’t address the root cause of criminality and that it’s important that we see that these are complex social issues and that offering these supports in hopes that it will address part of this and offer some hope and support to those being arrested,” Cst. Terri Healy said.
Felicella said while this is a good first step, more needs to be done in society to help support people in this criminal cycle to truly break it.
He said there should be more focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration, adding there should also be better local and provincial supports that are more easily accessible.
“Let’s just start with one thing. Let’s just get them off the street where they need housing and give them that, and then we’ll go from there, and we can add components onto that to change their lives,” he explained.
VicPD couldn’t confirm if future enforcement campaigns will have the same emphasis on community supports but said officers try to do this kind of outreach work every day when they can.