VANCOUVER — Retailers across Canada are concerned about an uptick in violence as a "tsunami" of retail theft plagues businesses that threatens the safety of employees and customers, says the general manager for loss prevention at London Drugs.
Tony Hunt told a news conference Friday at Vancouver police headquarters that most retailers have seen at least a 20 per cent increase in retail theft in recent years, so he is grateful city police are cracking down on the problem.
"Our primary concern as employers is the abuse of front line employees with aggressive and violent behaviours with increasing frequency and intensity," he said. "This isn't a Vancouver problem. We're hearing across the province, across the country, employees and customers are afraid and this is simply not OK."
This comes as Vancouver police reported on its latest shoplifting crackdown on Friday with 258 arrests, along with the recovery of almost $57,000 in stolen goods and the seizure of 26 weapons.
Vancouver Staff Sgt. Mario Mastropieri said the arrests were made during a 16-day operation in September, which was co-ordinated with other Lower Mainland police departments, resulting in another 82 arrests in Delta, Langley, Richmond and Burnaby.
"As a result of this project, violent shoplifting decreased citywide by 22 per cent during the duration of the project," he told the news conference.
"While we're pleased with the results, there's still work that needs to be done. We will continue to proactively target chronic shoplifters and violent thieves until everybody feels safe again."
Mastropieri agreed that Vancouver isn't alone in dealing with rampant theft, and other North American cities have seen some major retailers shut down because of violent shoplifting. Police are determined not to let that happen in Vancouver, he said.
He noted that shoplifting may happen due to poverty, mental health or addiction issues, but that there is also an "organized crime aspect" to the growing losses.
"A lot of the items being stolen end up on certain marketplaces or (are) even shipped across the country. So, we're seeing that trend," he said. "We can't speculate on where exactly they end up from there."
Hunt said employers are spending millions on security measures, but not all businesses can afford to take those steps.
"No one entity can stand alone and achieve community safety," he told the news conference. "People should not have to face violence and abuse at work."
He said retailers rely on police, courts and social support systems to make it safe to work in communities.
"We in the retail community appreciate the work of the Vancouver Police and other police partners to focus attention and resources on prolific retail theft, and the abuse and violence, which is so concerning to us and to our employees," he said.
The latest arrests are in addition to a police blitz last spring where 355 people were arrested for shoplifting.
U.S. retail giant Target announced last month that it was closing nine stores in four states where theft and organized retail crime have threatened the safety of its customers and workers.
The stores that closed this month are in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and New York City.
— With files from Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.
The Canadian Press