Windsor businesses aim to curb thieves ‘boldly’ swiping big-ticket items

CAROLE MORRIS-UNDERHILL carole.morris-underhill @CMUnderhill



SaltWire Network


From a brazen daytime catalytic converter theft to two chainsaws being stuffed down baggy pants and spirited out of the store, one Windsor retailer has seen it all — and he’s had just about enough. Jeff Redden, who owns Windsor Home Hardware, is one of the merchants who is fighting back against the notable uptick in thieves targeting area businesses. Redden has installed a state-of-the-art video surveillance system plus multiple anti-theft devices in an effort to curb increasing thefts. He security estimates the improved features have cost the business between $40,000 and $50,000. After someone walked out with a boxed barbecue this summer, Redden even equipped the customer pickup door with a security feature — it now requires a code to use it. “We work very well with the local RCMP; they’re responsive. We’ve had much luck identifying these people after the fact, but we hardly ever get our goods back,” said Redden as customers mulled about the furniture section of the store. “But we also get to ban them from our store. So, you victory feel like it’s a little bit of a when they know they didn’t completely get away with it and hopefully they won’t come back again.” Redden said he’s seen an pandemic. uptick in thefts since the In the last year alone, he predicts he’s lost between $7,500 and $10,000 in bigticket merchandise — at least double, if not triple, what was stolen in previous years. “We’ve noticed they’re not going for the smaller items. We’ve noticed an uptake in big-ticket items, things aggressively that they’re very boldly, taking — like generators and expensive Stihl power equipment like concrete saws, with a $2,000 value, chain saws, trimmers, and barbecues,” he said. With approximately 40 video cameras inside and outside the store, which is located at the Fort Edward Plaza, the staff is generally able to pinpoint when something was stolen, how it was taken, and can produce a good-quality image of the person who took it. That information is then forwarded to the police. “I think obviously with the rising prices, it’s made it hard; people are more desperate, they can’t afford things,” said Redden, before noting that most of the thefts they’re experiencing are from out-oftowners. “The professionals that steal, sell it on the black market. So when the prices are high, they can get more; they get a higher dollar value for this stuff.” Through the increased security measures, Redden said they can tell which way the thieves leave town, with many heading towards Exit 5A — a two-minute drive from the plaza to hit Highway 101. INCREASED SURVEILLANCE That’s why the retailer is calling upon the municipality to help battle the problem. Redden wrote a letter to West Hants council asking them to install video cameras at Exit 5A, the Cole Drive, Wentworth Road intersection as it’s one area in Windsor that currently lacks video surveillance. “We’re working very closely with the plaza retailers. Together we’re trying to curb this but it’s a bit overwhelming right now. These cameras would sort of protect our borders, if you will, and help us identify some of these thieves after the fact,” said Redden. West Hants Mayor Abraham Zebian said in a phone interview that council has been discussing expanding the video surveillance network on and off for the past two years. He said council was “fully supportive of the initiative” and hopes to have a report presented in time for budget deliberations in the new year. “We have referred it off to staff and are hoping to have a report back that would look at all of our main entry points to the municipality,” said Zebian. “We’re not just looking at Windsor. We’re looking at Windsor, Three Mile Plains, Garlands Crossing, Hantsport, Falmouth — all the main areas where you can get on and off the highway pretty quickly.” Zebian said having a municipality-wide video surveillance system in place would be beneficial for a variety of reasons, not just for theft prevention. He noted it could be used should there be a missing person, or if there was an accident. Zebian, who owns a business located at the Fort Edward Plaza, confirmed he’s also witnessed an increase in shoplifting. He said it seems the thieves are predominately coming from the Halifax Regional Municipality. “They come down here and it can cost a business a lot of money and it costs customers lots of money because that has to be absorbed by somebody,” said Zebian of the impact of shoplifting. “The more we can combat it, the better it is for our community, and the safer our communities will be.” The executive representing the Windsor Township Business Association also wrote a letter in support of Redden’s correspondence. The group encouraged council to close the security gap that exists by installing security cameras at the Cole Drive, Wentworth Road intersection. “Locally-owned businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and community. Not only do they employ many people locally but also offer the variety of goods and services that make West Hants a wonderful place to live,” the letter reads. “While every entrepreneur must face the individual challenges of building their business, community security and safety are things we rely on council to take the lead on.” MAKING THIEVES UNWELCOME Redden said he’s optimistic that by working together, merchants, RCMP officers and the municipality will be able to overcome the surge in thefts. “We just put in a large cordless power tool display with drills and planers and grinders… and they’re all tied down and armed with the alarm system,” said Redden. trying “You’re just constantly to find ways to protect your stock.” Short of keeping every item under lock and key, Redden said some theft is to be expected. However, what he’s witnessed over the last couple of years is not normal. “It’s frustrating and it’s not just unique to our store. Every retailer goes through this. Shop theft is an age-old problem,” said Redden. “I’ve been in this for 30 years and I’ve just never seen it this bad. The frequency and the dollar value that’s going out the door is kind of scary.” West Hants District RCMP confirmed via email that thefts from stores and businesses have become more regular, with most thefts involving groceries or power tools. “West Hants District RCMP remains committed to working with community members, business owners and elected officials to build safer communities” said Sgt. Rob Frizzell, an operations non-commissioned officer for the West Hants District continue RCMP. “Our members to engage in meaningful ways to address issues related to theft in the community. The RCMP has the capability of resolving these issues effectively, including crossing municipal boundaries to work with neighbouring investigative units.” If groups are identified as partaking in these types of thefts, Frizzell noted the RCMP has the ability to deploy street crime enforcement officers to investigate. While the RCMP “does not provide recommendations related to video surveillance,” they do use it as a tool when investigating crimes. He recommended businesses employing video surveillance to use signage and to invest in a good quality system. He also cautioned business owners about the risks associated with having employees confront thieves, as doing so could place them at risk. Frizzell noted that thefts are often completed in teams, which includes a driver and a person who actually goes into a business and steals the products. From checking video surveillance, that’s something Redden has also noticed. While Redden says they continue to take steps to improve security at Home Hardware, he thinks a community approach to tackling the issue will make the area unwelcoming to would-be thieves. “If we can stop enough of them, maybe the word will get out and they will just go somewhere else,” said Redden. “If they feel that Windsor is protected, they’re going to go where the lowest hanging fruit is, they’re going to go where they don’t run into any opposition or any resistance,” he added. “If we can make it difficult for them — and I think we can — that would be a win.”