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'Something isn't working in the system’: VPD operation highlights concerning shoplifting trends

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During a three-week operation dubbed Project Barcode, Vancouver police say they made 217 arrests and recovered nearly $80,000 in stolen merchandise.

"We continue to see an alarming trend towards repeat offenders and people using violence to commit their crimes," said Staff Sgt. Mario Mastropieri of the Vancouver Police Department. "There was one retailer that was targeted 53 times by shoplifters during the course of this project."

VPD says 47 of those arrested were repeat offenders. According to the report, mid-sized retailers including London Drugs, The Dollar Store and grocery stores were the most targeted. Twenty-four weapons were also seized, most of them being knives.

"Physical assaults, threats of violence and the abuse of retail workers has escalated, and we need to continue to work together to stop it," said Troy Hunt, the general manager of loss prevention for London Drugs in Greater Vancouver.

In 2022, the VPD says shoplifting rose 30 percent from the previous year. However, police believe the numbers are likely higher, as retailers often don't report small theft.

"You've heard about violence and that's a huge concern," said Walley Wargolet of the Gastown Business Improvement Society. "But there's also this attitude that folks can just come in and take what they want and feel like there really is no impact."

Both Hunt and Wargolet expressed frustrations over the fact that repeat offenders play a major role in the issue.

"If somebody is charged with the offence and they're back out committing the same offence within a couple of days, potentially hurting somebody, then something isn't working in the system," said Hunt.

"We have to look outside the box that we're currently living in because it's just not working. It's as simple as that," said Wargolet.

Police say that the number of shoplifting incidents that involve violence is down 45 percent in 2023 so far, but still remains a source of concern.

Last year, Vancouver saw an average of 20 violent shoplifting incidents per month.

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