A pal recently sent me an Instagram video of two 50-something year old, well-dressed golfers wandering into a pro shop and 90 seconds later casually walking out with two putters stuffed down one guy’s pants. I instantly felt my blood pressure go through the roof (figuratively). My guess is the retail value of the clubs was in the range of $250.00.
I don’t know where the golf shop theft took place but I do know that similar scenarios happen frequently to retailers in BC, including tourism operators, in spite of security cameras and other measures to prevent this type of crime. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, shoplifting is at an all-time high and by all accounts appears to show no signs of abating. The Retail Council of Canada says thefts have risen on average by 300 percent since the start of the pandemic.
A TIABC member from a hospitality-related sector association told me last week that during his travels around the province to meet with stakeholders, he learned that shoplifting and vandalism were among the top three or four issues many of his members cited as requiring serious attention in order for their businesses to survive. Yikes!
I also heard this week from another member that in one of BC’s most popular tourism destinations, a well-known convenience store chain closed its primary downtown outlet because of the ongoing violence, damage and thefts the store and its employees have experienced in recent years. The retailer came to the unfortunate conclusion that it was cheaper and safer to shutter its operation and pay out the lease than to remain open and put up with the risks.
In recent months, many communities have stepped up law enforcement and enacted other measures to crack down on chronic offenders and organized crime rings who are largely responsible for the burglaries but the problem persists.
Thankfully there are resources for retailers to access such as a WorkSafe BC guide on preventing violence, robbery and theft. On their own many business owners have invested in anti-theft devices and on-site security personnel. Business improvement associations have offered training to members and launched street teams to patrol various neighbourhoods. Earlier this week the province introduced a new program (see below) to help businesses with up to $3,000 to cover the costs related to vandalism and to implement prevention measures. Government previously promised legislative changes to the Criminal Code that would add stronger conditions on repeat violent offenders. But are these actions enough?
Many major retailers maintain that very little is being accomplished no matter which initiative so they’re taking matters into their own hands to advance practical solutions with measurable outcomes. You’ll hear more about the strategy as it rolls out in the coming months.
While I’m not an expert and don’t want to get into the reasons behind the increasing problem of shoplifting in particular, I recognize that the solutions are equally complex and not as simple as the default response of putting chronic offenders in jail and throwing away the key. At the same time, given the impact of theft on tourism operators, as well as other offences committed against visitors that have generated recent headlines, TIABC is in the process of determining its advocacy role and policy position on this critical issue to not only protect tourism workers and businesses, but to mitigate the damage to our province’s reputation as a safe and welcoming place for everyone.
As much as I have compassion for people with severe challenges who often commit the aforementioned crimes, I’m a strong believer in justice, especially for thieves who should know better. To that end, I hope the perpetrators of the putter theft are identified and turned in by an Instagram subscriber with a conscience. That would certainly make my blood pressure drop to its normal state of 100 over 60.