Stay vigilant against break-ins, police warn businesses

Ottawa police are advising business owners to take precautions and increase security at their properties over the coming weeks when many of them will be closed due to coronavirus.

The police service has released a set of tips on its website meant to help owners prevent break-ins and, in the event that they are robbed, to aid police in any investigation.

"There are a lot of empty businesses right now in the city," said Const. Martin Dompierre, media relations officer with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).

"The possibility of people wanting to take advantage of the situation because the businesses are empty is augmented."

Many shops had already closed voluntarily on the advice of public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Others were forced to do so after the Ontario government ordered non-essential businesses to close for two weeks.

Dompierre said would-be criminals may feel emboldened by the combination of unattended businesses and fewer people on the streets as more residents practise social distancing.

Keep valuables out of sight

The tips include moving valuables out of store displays, removing cash from tills and installing an alarm system for around-the-clock monitoring.

Dompierre said installing a surveillance camera system could capture video of any criminal activity that may take place, and allow police to review the footage as part of an investigation.

The advice is a proactive measure to prevent crime, Dompierre said, adding there hasn't been a spike in thefts over the past few weeks.

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Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area (BIA), said foot traffic is way down in many commercial areas, making it easier for criminals to get away without being seen.

"We've seen in the past in large cities where there's been a power outage or something like that, where suddenly businesses all closed down, we've seen incidents of robbery and such or damage to property," McHale said.

The majority of the 65 businesses on Sparks Street are closed, McHale said.

Security measures standard practice

Jasna Jennings, executive director of the ByWard Market BIA, said the measures shared by the OPS are already standard practice for many businesses, but they serve as a useful reminder.

"For business owners who are operating at a heightened sense of nervousness, of stress, anxiety, some of the most basic things that they would do, it's hard to remember," said Jennings. 

"So this is a little bit of a checklist that they provided to us, and we were happy to share that reminder with our members."

Ottawa police said the force will also be stepping up patrols in certain parts of the city in the coming days. 

Officers will be assigned to patrol specific areas with a high concentration of restaurants, businesses and manufacturing, in addition to their normal duties.

Dompierre said the new strategy, which is underway now, has already contributed to several arrests, including at least four for breaking and entering.

"We want to reinforce that the police are on the street. We're vigilant," he warned.