VANCOUVER -- Police say there was a dramatic increase in armed shoplifting incidents last year, particularly in Vancouver's downtown core.

The Vancouver Police Department said incidents of shoplifting involving a weapon were up 260 per cent in 2020, compared to the previous year.

"To be clear, we're not talking about trivial and minor thefts here, we're talking about incidents where there was violence, weapons produced or threats during the commission of these offences," Insp. Rob Clarke said at a news conference Wednesday.

These weapons ranged from "uncapped dirty syringes" and bear spray to knives and guns, Clarke said.

The data prompted a month-long initiative in the city dubbed "Project Arrow."

At the end of four weeks, nearly 270 criminal charges were recommended against "violent and prolific shoplifters," the VPD said.

During that time, those involved investigated 250 reports of shoplifting. The VPD says 130 people were arrested, resulting in 268 recommended charges.

According to police, 45 of those people were either wanted on existing warrants or caught breaching bail conditions when they were arrested.

"These individuals that committed these offences, they really caused havoc in these businesses. They terrorized employees, sometimes young female clerks who were in stores by themselves. They used weapons, they threatened, they intimidated anybody who stood in their way," Clarke said.

Officers say they recovered $37,093 worth of stolen goods, which were returned to stores, and 35 weapons were seized.

Anthony Sullivan, whose family owns the IGA grocery store near Robson and Richards streets, said at a news conference hosted by police that his staff have noted more weapons used in threats.

"Knives, needles, screwdrivers, hammers and even police batons," Sullivan listed.

"On top of working through the pandemic, thinking of what kind of violence they may confront made our management and staff extremely nervous to come to work."

He said his store expects to spend more than $80,000 on loss prevention in 2021.

The department highlighted three "incidents of note" that were part of their investigation.

The first involved a man police describe as a violent offender, who was arrested after allegedly stealing $648 worth of items from the Lululemon location on Robson Street.

They say the man previously served a sentence for manslaughter, and is currently facing an unrelated charge for assault causing bodily harm. It is alleged he had a can of bear spray up his sleeve at the time of his arrest.

Another case, which was reported days later, involved a woman allegedly seen stealing cosmetics from the London Drugs on Granville Street. Police say the woman had a "large knife and a firearm" with her at the time.

And last week, a man who'd previously been convicted of manslaughter was arrested while on probation for two previous thefts. The man's conditions included a ban from all London Drugs stores in B.C., but it is alleged he'd entered a location on Robson Street and stolen two LED flashlights.