Victoria police made over 100 arrests and retrieved over $29,000 worth of goods during an eight-day shoplifting enforcement blitz earlier this week.
Working with retail loss prevention staff, officers from the patrol, outreach and general investigations divisions identified and arrested frequent shoplifting offenders across Victoria between Nov. 27 and Dec. 5.
The operation, entitled ‘Project Lifter,’ was initiated in response to concerns from Victoria businesses regarding theft, violence in enforcement, and the impact on both business operations and staff wellbeing.
“Violence and threats are an increasing aspect of retail theft. Effectively dealing with these crimes is of interest to the public, as everyone pays for retail crime, and all of us know someone who works in retail who is impacted by retail crime,” said Tony Hunt, general manager for London Drugs loss prevention in a release Thursday.
“We are grateful for the police support, and we need to continue this type of collaborative enforcement involving police, government, our courts, corrections, social services, and retailers.”
He explained in an interview with CHEK News that frontline staff, cashiers and security workers at the Victoria London Drugs location have dealt with violence from shoplifters, including racial slurs and physical attacks.
“The employees have this fear that any given week their is going to be an incident where somebody lashes out, strikes out against them and that’s the unfortunate environment that we are faced with,” Hunt said.
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Of those arrested during the operation, four were arrested multiple times during the project, with 21 people having outstanding warrants. Individuals that were arrested had a total of 1,103 previous criminal convictions, which included 186 violent offences.
“The results of this project are staggering, and clearly indicate that even though there has been a decline in shoplifting reports, retail theft continues to be a huge problem in our city. VicPD is committed to continue addressing this problem, in partnership with our community, and helping people feel safer,” said VicPD Chief Del Manak.
“A project like this takes considerable planning, coordination and resources, and we encourage businesses to report retail theft so we can prioritize current resources, access additional funding and continue taking action against chronic shoplifting and the violence related to retail theft.”
Jeff Bray, CEO of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says he wasn’t surprised by the numbers.
“We have known about this for years,” Bray explained.
He said the real problem is the number of prolific offenders who continue to shoplift while waiting court dates.
Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams agreed with Bray.
Williams added, “We have to find a way to bolster the legal system and the justice system so we can actually try these people, have them convicted against crimes and put them away for a while so they aren’t around to steal things.”
Officers from VicPD’s outreach section are working with those who were arrested to provide information regarding access to housing, substance use and other support systems.
-With files from CHEK’s Mackenzie Read