An anti-shoplifting expert in Canada has warned that even when thieves are caught, more than half of them are released despite hard evidence.
Police in Vancouver launched a three-week crackdown on retail theft as officials warned the city could catch up with San Francisco in the number of shoplifting cases
Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, said Global News: “What really concerns me is just the casualness of people’s ability to just steal things and walk out the door.”
“There’s just no shame in it and it’s a scary place.”
During Vancouver Police’s Project Barcode, 217 arrests were made between February 18 and March 10.
As a result, 278 charges were recommended to the Crown attorney, but a shocking number were dropped.
No charges resulted in 155, or 55 percent, of the charges, and only 39 percent, or 58, of the 147 charges approved by the Crown resulted in a conviction.
Meanwhile, 18 percent have been suspended and 42 percent are still outstanding.
“I think that’s one of the patterns we’re most concerned about,” Wargolet said.
The Crown Attorney considers the likelihood of conviction and the extent of the public interest when deciding whether to authorize a prosecution.
Sgt Steve Addison told the news outlet: “We caught these thieves in the act. We had very certain, solid evidence.”
“It’s frustrating for businesses and it’s frustrating for many of our officers who work hard to identify criminals when there is a perception that these people are not suffering the consequences.”
The police department confirmed that officers are focused on catching criminals and gathering solid evidence to support criminal charges, but noted they have no control over a case once it goes to trial.
Criminal defense attorney Leo Fumano assured the public that the Crown attorney is not limiting the shoplifting charge.
“I can assure you that the Crown is not saying, ‘Oh, we don’t care.’
“Especially with chronic offenders, there is a very good reason to go ahead and file these charges,” Fumano told the news outlet.
Officials have warned that attitudes toward retail crime are approaching those in San Francisco and that stores may need to respond by adopting more deterrent measures.
Retailers have taken a radical approach to combating retail theft in the Golden Gate City.
In Richmond County, Walgreens has added chains and locks to its freezers to deter thieves.
To purchase items from the freezer, shoppers must press a button and an overhead announcement directs an employee to open the freezer.
An employee said ABC7 that the shop is approached between 15 and 20 times a day.
According to the news outlet, one shoplifter explained that he didn’t pay because “it’s San Francisco, bro.”
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice say shoplifting in San Francisco increased 20 percent from 2019 to 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said: “San Francisco is a cautionary tale.”
The highest levels of government must step up, otherwise “we will not solve the problem,” he warned.