Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller says shoplifting has plummeted, but break-and-enters and public intoxication have escalated rapidly as businesses and services have closed under coronavirus controls. (News Bulletin file photo)

Shoplifting way down, break-and-enters up in Nanaimo during COVID-19 pandemic

Break-and-enters to businesses increased 65 per cent in the last two weeks of March, say police

Nanaimo’s top cop says break-ins and thefts from vehicles have jumped and people living on the streets are more aggressive under measures to control coronavirus.

In his report to Nanaimo city council on Wednesday, RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller, said for the last two weeks in March versus the first to weeks in March, police saw shoplifting complaints drop 80 per cent with most stores closed and those that are open posting security guards, but break-and-enters to businesses and residences and public intoxication is way up.

“Consuming liquor and intoxication in public is up by about 45 per cent … break and enters to businesses up 65 per cent, break and enters to residential are up about 20 per cent, so we are seeing that sort of stuff,” Miller said.

Police are also seeing more aggression from people experiencing homelessness.

“Homeless people on the street are noticeably becoming more aggressive,” Miller said. “They’re somewhat confused because this is a situation they have not seen before with respect to the restaurants where they get their food and a lot of their services are being closed. We’re noticing the street price of drugs has increased because of the supply coming in from the States is shut down with the border being closed.”

Dave LaBerge, city manager of community safety, said in his report to council, bylaws officers have also witnessed a “heightened tension and anxiety on the street.”

“One thing the officers have seen is there’s a sense of fear and there’s clearly a scarcity of services,” LaBerge said. “One of the things that’s arisen is there’s hoarding food on the street, just like some people do in their homes, and it’s making it more difficult to keep some of these encampments that we encounter every day mobile.”

Many more people trying to take shelter in parkades and around city facilities and bylaws officers are busy attending closed skate parks, lacrosse boxes and playgrounds where people are continuing to gather.

The Nanaimo RCMP detachment has also developed new policies for cleaning facilities and handling prisoners brought to cells if they appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 of other infectious diseases. Cleaning staff has also been increased.

“We’ve also amended our policies when we attend sudden deaths,” Miller said. “If it’s a suspected COVID-19 death we will equip our members with disposable bunny suits and masks to reduce the risk of exposure.”

Some members of the detachment who can work from home are doing so. Nanaimo’s front line police force is fully staffed, but to achieve that and protect the health of officers to maintain a fully effective force 24-seven, school liaison work and other operations have been “collapsed” and members redeployed to front-line police operations to deal with increased numbers of calls of reports from the public about suspicious activity.

“My greatest challenge right now is ensuring that I will have enough officers to meet the need,” Miller said in a response to a question by Coun. Erin Hemmens. “At this time I am fully staffed and can meet all operational requirements. In the event my officers are exposed to COVID-19, I could, realistically lose a whole watch and that would require me to move resources and redeploy and reapply, so my biggest challenge right now is to ensure my officers stay safe and have the support they need to help the community.”

Training has been suspended until at least Sept. 15 and all leave in the RCMP has been cancelled by the commissioner of the RCMP until July 1.

READ ALSO: Thieves taking advantage of empty streets, say Nanaimo RCMP

LaBerge said bylaws officers have not been asked by the province to help enforce coronavirus control measures, such as ensuring social distancing.

“We have had some clarity by the area health officer … on matters such as with these health orders on mass gatherings and what these implications would be to areas, such as outdoor trails, stairs or seawalls and they’re of the opinion that it would be more problematic to try to curtail or prevent the public from using these spaces and just to try to self-govern proper protocols of social-distancing as circumstances warrant,” LaBerge said.
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