A downtown business owner has expressed concerns about the daily thefts that are occurring in his premises.
Benz Gillani, a partner in Duke’s Liquor Store on Marine Avenue, said his business has seen increased crime in the neighbourhood.
“I want to make sure people are aware that this is happening and it is affecting small businesses; this seems to be an issue that all of a sudden has escalated,” said Gillani. “We’ve been here for eight years and this is the first year we’ve seen this being absolutely out of hand.
“I want people to be aware that this is happening to small businesses in Powell River. This is affecting us tremendously.”
Gillani said people are blatantly, in front of his employees, stealing and walking out of the premises, knowing that Duke’s cannot do anything to them.
“This can’t be the way the world works,” added Gillani. “There has to be something we can do. The mayor or council or somebody has to do something about it and do something that moves this forward rather than backward.
“It’s the same people who are stealing. We’ve got them on camera. We’ve shown the videos to the police. The police have basically said: ‘we can’t do anything unless they threaten your life or make threats.’”
Gillani said the people perpetrating the crimes walk into the store, look at staff, pick up a bottle and walk right out.
“We try to stop them, but we’ve got younger women working and they are not going to start punching people, nor would we want them to,” said Gillani. “We can’t just have people walking in and taking stuff. We just live in a lawless society.”
Gillani said that apparently, there is housing in the neighbourhood that is being subsidized for homeless people in the city, including in the proximity of his store.
“That’s where these people are walking out from; they are walking into our store and picking stuff up,” said Gillani. “I was at the coffee shop and I was talking to them. The same people are walking in and demanding to have coffee and not paying for it.
“There are a few merchants who are going through this. This has been a phenomenal community but that’s not the case now. It has escalated in the last three or four months. If you add the thefts up over a month, that’s a couple or three thousand dollars. That’s not a small amount. It’s the same two or three people and they know they can get away with it, so they just keep doing it.”
Gillani said he does not want his legitimate customers coming into Duke’s thinking they might be unsafe.
“This is all around a bad scenario,” said Gillani. “Something needs to be done. The mayor needs to be aware. I’d like some pressure put on city council to not renew the contracts for the housing. This is not a good thing for Powell River.”
RCMP staff segeant responds
In a written response to questions from the Peak, the Powell River RCMP detachment commander, staff sergeant Rod Wiebe, stated he is unable to narrow down crime statistics to a specific neighbourhood, but what he can say is that although property crime in general, year to date, is down nine per cent compared to last year, certain crimes are on the rise.
“In a matter of a month, reports of theft under $5,000 increased over 14 per cent and shoplifting complaints increased over six per cent, so is there currently a theft problem in Powell River? I would have to say yes,” stated Wiebe. “In late September, I spoke to the Westview Ratepayers Society and confirmed declining crime rates. While many crimes continue to see decreases, I am not so sure I would have the same talking points now. We are currently targeting our most prolific offenders, who we believe are responsible for a majority of these crimes, but they are being released as fast as we catch them.”
Wiebe stated that he would encourage businesses to report all thefts.
“While investigating these thefts, the best evidence we have is surveillance video, so I would strongly suggest businesses put some type of system in place,” stated Wiebe. “Staff should not engage the suspects, but ensure to get a good description, and if they depart in a vehicle, try to obtain a licence plate, a direction of travel, and then immediately call police. If there are blind spots in your store, determine if there is a way to minimize them. Good inventory control is crucial, as sometimes it isn’t readily evident an item has gone missing.
“If theft is a daily occurrence, please call us and we can have our community policing officer come and do an evaluation of the store.”
Wiebe stated that as for the downtown businesses, a group of businesses and property owners have come together with some city officials and Lift Community Services to discuss concerns.
“If not already involved, a business should join the group to be a part of the ongoing discussions,” stated Wiebe. “Contact Lift Community Services to get put on the list.”
Mayor reaches out
Powell River mayor Dave Formosa said that subsequent to the Peak making him aware of the specific concerns of Gillani, he, councillors Jim Palm and Maggie Hathaway, along with Lift Community Services executive director Stuart Clark and his senior staff, plus Wiebe, and concerned residents from the area had a “very good discussion.”
“Council and Lift heard them loud and clear,” said Formosa.
The mayor said BC Housing is responsible for housing low-income and homeless people downtown due to COVID-19 concerns for peoples’ health and safety.
“Subsequently, we’ve come to a point where no matter how hard Lift has tried with extra security, extra cleanup, and extra staffing, and with the RCMP doing the most they can with limited resources, we’ve come to the conclusion that there needs to be a change in this situation. The local group I’ve discussed is meeting with senior BC Housing representatives to talk in detail about this situation.
“City council is very concerned, and the RCMP are very concerned about the effects on businesses and neighbours in this area. We are trying to mediate and rectify the situation. It’s not an easy one to overcome. The trick is to find the right location to house these individuals who have a disease.”
Formosa said the issue is being taken very seriously and it’s hoped there is a remedy for the situation as soon as possible.
“We are lighting a fire under the situation to the best of our ability,” said Formosa.
He said he called Gillani and they had a good discussion.
“I did reach out to Duke’s,” added Formosa, “and we’ll do our best to see what we can do.”