Deterring the smash-and-grab

Liz HaliliA thief smashed through the back door of One World Merchants on Main Street in Vancouver earlier this month, stripping the shop of some $5,000 in sterling silver jewelry.

Shop owners Liz Halili and Dave Schmitz now figure that the break-in was a smash-and-grab – a random and unpredictable event. In the four years the pair has owned the shop, this was their first break-in.

“I was shocked at first because we’ve never had anything like this happen before,” said Halili.

With no alarm system or security camera, Halili didn’t know about the break-in until her cell phone rang with the bad news and she and Schmitz stumbled out of bed and to their shop to investigate, survey the damage and clean up.

Halili now takes the break-in in stride, figuring that such a random act is unlikely to repeat. She’s also comforted by neighbors who called police, called her and stood guard until she and Schmitz could get to the shop. But even so, she’s looking into security systems and other cost-effective deterrents. And that, experts say, is a good idea.

Tips to deter business theft

Kim Kapp, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, offered kudos to the neighbors who stepped up and called the police, called Halili and stayed at the store until the couple arrived.

“We recommend getting to know your neighbors,” Kapp said. “That’s a sort of universal rule.”

Neighbors, even if not officially banded into a neighborhood or business watch, are in the best position to spot and report unusual activity, Kapp explained.

Leroy Santiago holds a security cameraOther recommendations: Install a security system and surveillance cameras.

“Alarm systems are a very effective deterrent,” Kapp said. “Oftentimes thieves will avoid places that are alarmed.”

In the event a surveillance system fails to stop a burglary, Kapp said a camera can still be helpful by identifying thieves after the fact.

In addition, Kapp recommends securing valuables at night. And when a shop has a cash register, remove the cash, open the till and, if possible, turn the till so that it’s facing storefront windows.

“You want to show that it’s really not worth a burglar’s time to break in and try to steal money that’s not there,” Kapp said, adding that some businesses have experienced property damage when a thief has targeted empty tills.

Cost concerns

Leroy Santiago, a security consultant for Global Security in Vancouver, said security systems aren’t as expensive as they used to be. Contracts, with free equipment and surveillance agreements, run about $35 a month and come with free equipment installation.

“Most people call us after the fact,” Santiago said. “Everyone says it’s a safe place until someone gets broken into.”

For Halili’s part, she’s arming her business with an alarm system and said that one incident in four years won’t jade her or her relationship with the community.

“You can’t prevent a smash-and-grab,” Halili said. “But I also plan on putting away my valuable silver and making sure all of my neighbors have my phone number.”

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