AN ANTI-SHOPLIFTING expert in Canada has warned that even when thieves are caught over half of them get let off despite hard evidence. Police in Vancouver, launched a three-week crackdown on retail theft as officials warn that the city could end up on par with San Francisco in terms of shoplifting levels. During “Project Barcode” by the Vancouver Police Department between February 18 and March 10, there were 217 arrests. As a result, 278 charges were recommended to the Crown counsel but a shocking number was dropped. Out of the charges, 155 or 55 percent resulted in no charges, and only 39 percent, or 58 of the 147 charges approved by the crown ended in conviction. Meanwhile, 18 percent were stayed and 42 percent are still pending.
“I think this is one of the patterns that we are most concerned about,” said Walley Wargolet, the Gastown Business Improvement Society Executive director. The Crown counsel tests the likelihood of conviction and the level of public interest when deciding on approving charges. Sgt Steve Addison told the news outlet: “We caught these thieves in the act. We had very secure, solid evidence. It is frustrating for businesses and it’s frustrating for many of our officers who work hard to identify criminals when there is a perception that these people are not suffering the consequences.”
Criminal defense lawyer Leo Fumano reassured the public that the Crown counsel is not limiting shoplifting charges. “I can assure you the crown is not saying, ‘Oh we’re not interested in this.’ There’s a very good reason particularly with chronic offenders to proceed and to lay these charges,” Fumano told the news outlet.
Officials have warned that the attitude towards retail crime is nearing that seen in San Francisco and that stores may have to accommodate by implementing more deterrents. In the Richmond District, Walgreens has put chains and locks on their freezer cabinets as a deterrent to thieves. In order to buy items from the freezer, shoppers have to press a button and an overhead announcement alerts an employee to unlock it. One employee told ABC 7 that the store is targeted between 15 and 20 times per day. According to the news outlet, one shoplifter explained that he didn’t pay because “it’s San Francisco bro.” Statistics from the State Department of Justice state that shoplifting has increased by 20 percent in San Francisco from pre-pandemic levels in 2019 to 2022.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said that “San Francisco provides a cautionary tale.” Senior levels of government need to step up or “we won’t be solving the problem,” he warned.