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Pair face dozens of charges in commercial break-in surge during pandemic
VANCOUVER -- Proactive police surveillance — as well as quick-thinking business owners — appear to behind the arrest of two men accused of a crime spree that targeted dozens of storefronts at a time when Vancouver was at its most vulnerable.
The pair is accused of being a substantial part of the surge in commercial break-ins at businesses in and around the city, many of which closed or reduced hours to comply with directions from public health officials during the pandemic.
“The robbers were in and out in pretty much 20 seconds. They knew exactly where our cash box was,” said Lan Do, who owns Banh Mi Tres Bon, a Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond.
Surveillance video shows two men entering the store at around 6:45 a.m. in early April. They rush to the back of the restaurant, grab a box, and rush out. Authorities believe one of them is 44-year-old Shane Duhamel.
“It’s scary knowing we’ve been cased, that we’ve been watched,” Do said.
But the suspects weren’t the only ones who had been watching, Do said. She got an automatic notification of a break-in on her phone, saw the security footage, and called 911. Instead of the Richmond RCMP showing up, it was officers from the Vancouver Police Department.
“They told us they’d been watching these guys for a while. They said they followed them and caught them in less than half an hour, just down the road,” Do said.
Authorities have charged Duhamel with break and enter at a Burnaby liquor store in mid-February. Surveillance video shows a suspect charging into a Burnaby liquor store with a crowbar.
He pries open desk drawers, pulls electronics off the desk and into a cardboard box, and knocks over a screen on his way out.
At least 15 charges of break and enter have been laid against Duhamel, according to court documents. He also faces a charge of possessing break-in instruments.
He’s one of two alleged chronic offenders highlighted by police in a press conference Wednesday. The other, Jesse Palanio, faces at least 18 charges, including break and enter, impersonation, fraud, and carrying brass knuckles.
Neither have faced these charges in court.
“We believe that the arrest of these two suspects and the subsequent charge approval will have a major impact on commercial break-ins around the city,” said Sgt. Aaron Roed.
Of the break-ins in the court documents, seven were at retail stores, three were at storage lockers, and eight were Asian restaurants. Two business owners told CTV News that when they looked through their properties after the break-ins, the main things missing appeared to be cigarettes.
Police have connected the two men to as many as 70 crimes across five cities, Roed said, all of it part of an astonishing surge in commercial break-ins during the pandemic. Rates more than doubled from about 50 a week before the pandemic began to 121 per week, according to Vancouver police published data.
Businesses boarded up or put bars on their windows, business improvement associations increased patrols, and police moved resources into following suspects, the tide started to turn. Last month officers announced the arrest of 40 suspects.
The number of cases per week dropped to a low of 12, the data shows. In May, there were 41 and 46 crimes in the the weeks of May 2 and May 9 — about pre-pandemic levels.
"We are still asking businesses to move property out of view of criminals, use shutters to reduce visibility, upgrade locks and increase lighting levels to ensure the business is well lit," Roed said.
"Together we can stop businesses from being targeted during these unprecedented times."