Burglaries are up in Burlington during coronavirus outbreak: How to keep businesses safe

Burlington business owner Joe Verga is tightening his security practices after he says his store selling CBD products was hit by burglars two nights in a row.

Verga, who owns Green Leaf Central, said that by the second night, he had updated his Nest camera subscription so it could save video for up to 10 days instead of three hours. The video he caught showed several people breaking in twice that night, at one point stuffing bags full of his products. 

Verga estimates he lost at least $6,000 from the burglaries, but he’s still finalizing that calculation. Burlington police have made two arrests in connection with the incidents, Deputy Chief Jon Murad said.

Burglaries in Burlington have risen slightly during the pandemic, compared with past years’ averages during the same period. Of the 11 burglaries reported in the Queen City between March 22 and April 21, four were of commercial businesses, Murad said

Like many Vermont small businesses, Verga’s business has already been feeling the stress because of the new coronavirus pandemic. Some other businesses have had to close temporarily because of Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order defining essential businesses. Verga’s business, which opened in December 2018, has been continuing curbside pickup orders as much as it can both before and after the burglary.

“I really needed this like a hole in the head,” Verga said. “I’m the small guy, the real small business that’s affected by the whole thing. To recover from this, it’s going to be a hard effort.” 

Burlington businesses more vulnerable to burglaries? 

The large amount of foot traffic that downtown Burlington sees during the year — locals, tourists and college students — is what attracted Verga to open a store in the center of the city. That foot traffic has caused other downtown businesses like Danform Shoes to make sure their security practices are top-notch, especially after business hours.

Danform’s General Manager Derek Hellyer said the Burlington store is the most secure of the business’ four locations. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Danform to close the Burlington and St. Albans branches temporarily while its Colchester and Shelburne stores are staying open for curbside pickup.

“I think it’s probably the most susceptible,” Hellyer said of the Burlington store. He added, “There’s a lot of people who are on Church Street late at night. We’ve had a security system there since, I think, 2003.”

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people at the end of 2019.

At its Burlington branch, Danform has a security alarm system that sends alerts to Hellyer’s phone, sensors on the store’s windows, and a camera system. An employee has checked on the store every day during the pandemic. Hellyer said Danform hasn’t had anyone try to force their way into the store while it has been closed. 

Verga discovered after the burglaries that a construction error with the door that prevented the door from fully locking had allowed easy entrance to the store. All it took was a strong tug to wrench the door open, he said.

Since then, Verga has looked to increase his security practices. He had a contractor rebuild the door jam so it shut all the way, changed the store’s locks, and secured the cameras in a better place. Verga said he is also getting a quote for a security alarm system and a gate for the door, neither of which he had before.

Increased criminal opportunity during the pandemic

The rise in Burlington’s burglaries is only slight, but it still has caught the Burlington Police Department’s attention. The number of commercial businesses being targeted is also higher than usual — 36% of the 11 burglaries from March 22 to April 21, Murad said. During a typical year, businesses are targeted by burglars 15% to 30% of the time, interim Chief Jennifer Morrison has said.

“It’s something we’re seeing an increase in at this moment that gives us pause, but it is not yet an epidemic of burglary that is afflicting our good city,” Murad said. 

While the overall numbers are low, police believe people who engage in criminal activity are seeing an opportunity with the governor’s “stay home, stay safe” order. Normally, Murad said, the number of people on Church Street during the day would deter people from breaking into a business. 

“When there are fewer eyes out and about, there are more targets of opportunity for those who have criminal intent,” Murad said.

Officers are still going out on patrol, in part to deter some of the criminal activity, Murad said. 

How businesses can protect themselves

Murad recommended several ways that businesses can remain secure from criminal activity: 

  • Install a security system with some type of alarm (sonic or silent) that also wires to the 911 system. 
  • Install security cameras. Sometimes placing them in view is a deterrent for potential criminals. 
  • Make sure the business’ door locks and stays secure. 
  • Check on businesses on days they are not open. For stores that are temporarily closed, this is especially important.

If your Burlington home or business has been burglarized, call the Burlington Police Department at 802-658-2704.

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.

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