The Vancouver Police Department says there has been a significant increase in commercial burglaries over the past two weeks.
From March 15 to 28, there were 20 commercial burglaries, according to data provided by the police department. There were seven burglaries over the same time period in 2018 and four in 2019.
The Columbian has received a number of inquiries wondering if there has been an increase in property crimes due to social changes caused by COVID-19. Readers have reported that they’ve seen people shoplifting baskets full of items; others have said the number of vehicle prowlers appears to be increasing.
Police department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said commercial businesses are being hit the hardest.
Six of the burglaries are categorized as related to shoplifting, according to the data. Five construction sites, two offices, three restaurants and two marijuana stores have been targeted. The two remaining burglaries were listed as “other locations” in the data.
Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell said March 26 that his agency’s data showed that property crimes were down a bit from the same time period last year, March 1 to 26. However, he said that this week would probably give deputies a better idea of what’s going on with updated numbers.
“The calls have (increased), but arrests are down,” Waddell said.
One of the “other locations” the police department reported as burglarized was the Clark County Public Health Harm Reduction Center in Vancouver, a full-service facility offering help for substance abuse.
The center, which has been shuttered amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, was broken into Saturday, said Dana Nguyen, program manager for the STD-HIV prevention program.
Nothing appears to have been stolen beyond some Band-Aids, Nguyen said. The center is not stocked, she said.
Public Health is enhancing its security measures and hoping Vancouver police increase their patrols around the center, Nguyen said.
The center had never been burglarized before Saturday’s break-in. Nguyen called the incident an unnecessary distraction during an uncertain time.
“Our staff is very busy working on our comprehensive response to (COVID-19),” she said.
Another business burglarized was Thatcher’s Coffee on Grand Boulevard. Owner Jamie Erdman said someone broke in March 20, just two days after she closed the business due to the public health crisis.
Erdman suspects that the same person broke into the coffee shop in November, because the person who did so used the same means of entry. That break-in resulted in the theft of a safe that was bolted to the floor.
When Erdman closed the business, she left a note on its window saying as much. She also wrote that the safe was open and empty. Still, it didn’t stop another break-in from happening.
The burglar once again damaged the coffee shop, but they didn’t make off with anything valuable the second time around. Police told Erdman that a number of nearby stores were also burglarized the same night.
New security measures have been installed at the shop, and a security system is up and running.
The incident has had a ripple effect. Erdman is having to pay for repairs and look for a new insurer. Her previous insurance provider dropped her business because of the two burglaries, she said. Her landlord is helping her pay for some of the repairs.
“It feels low. It’s just one insult on top of another,” Erdman said of the burglaries. “I was incredibly worried about things happening after the closure, like vandalism or thefts. Obviously, the person who did this doesn’t care about what’s going on.”
Kapp offered these suggestions for combatting burglars:
• If you have a security system, make sure it’s on and that the contact person listed for the account is available if police are called and need to reach them.
• Make sure all entrances are secured and locked and that any exterior lights are also working.
• If you have a neighboring business that is open, ask them to keep an eye on things.
• Make sure that if there is a cash register visible, the drawer is open and showing that it’s empty.