VANCOUVER -- As the COVID-19 pandemic changes our economy, it's also changing the way thieves do business too, according to a CTV News analysis of Vancouver crime data.

The advent of strict physical distancing measures, leading to the emptying out of the downtown core, seems to have led to petty thieves moving away from stealing from shoppers and their cars and towards stealing from empty businesses, the data shows.

"Most of our retail corridors are starting to see an influx," said Sgt. Aaron Road of the Vancouver Police Department. "That's because places are empty. Meanwhile theft from auto is down. We're not having as many people doing shopping, products in their back seat for people to steal."

Businesses should take precautions, he said, and many have already boarded up their storefronts. The VPD announced arrests of 40 accused thieves this week.

Meanwhile mischief, including vandalism, has stayed roughly constant across the city — highest in the downtown core both before and after physical distancing measures were introduced.

Broadly, reported crime is down slightly, seeming to show that some thieves are following public health advice like the rest of us, and staying home.

While police say they are on increased alert, other thieves seem to see fewer eyes on the street as their chance.

That's what Stephen Schmelefske thought when he found his car's passenger window smashed in a parkade on Burrard Street over the weekend.

"The window had been smashed and they'd rifled through the glove box and the console. I was disappointed, sad, a little surprised," he said.

His was one of three cars in a row that had been hit in the same way.

"It seems like there are some folks out there looking to be opportunistic," he said.

Theft from vehicle

Several police forces CTV News reached out to said they had seen increases in commercial crime.

"I'm aware that we're not unique in this but there has been some increases in business burglaries," said Cpl. Peter DeVries of the North Vancouver RCMP. "That's a reflection that a lot of businesses are closed and people aren't in their shops."

But it's Vancouver that has made its data available through its automatically updated GeoDash website.

Break and enter - Commercial

CTV News analyzed the four weeks before physical distancing measures came into effect and compared it to the most recent four weeks.

That data shows that commercial break-and-enters are up about 46 per cent from an average of 58 incidents in the four weeks before strict physical distancing measures began, compared to 85 incidents per week in the four most recent weeks.

And it's downtown where the change is seen the most — more than doubling from about 15 incidents per week to almost 35 incidents per week, the Vancouver data shows.

Residential break-and-enters are up about 10 per cent, from an average of about 50 incidents a week to about 55 incidents a week.

Mount Pleasant and Fairview saw the biggest increases, though the numbers are so small in each neighbourhood it's hard to spot a trend.

Break and enter data

Mischief across the city saw a small increase of about four per cent, from about 127 incidents a week to about 132 incidents per week, with small changes across the city.


Other thefts have dropped about 55 per cent across the city, or about 118 per week to about 52 per week, Vancouver statistics show.

Other theft


But downtown's theft from vehicle showed the biggest drop — from about 116 thefts per week to just 60 thefts per week.

There was a small increase in thefts of vehicles, from 14 per week to about 17 per week.

On the whole, reported crime in these categories has dropped from about 540 crimes per week to 524 crimes per week — about a three per cent drop.

"One of the things we're asking is that if people do experience being robbed they call us at 911 immediately. We've had a couple instances where people didn't call us first. That reduces the chances that we'll catch the person by quite a bit," DeVries said.