Crime in Old Ottawa East – has there been a COVID-19 impact?

Phyllis Odenbanch Sutton

News reports have talked about an increase in crime in Ottawa since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Mainstreeter decided to look more closely at the City’s recent crime statistics, particularly for Old Ottawa East (OOE), seeking to compare our community to others in Ottawa.

This article combines information obtained from the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) and from Stephanie Lemieux, our Community Police Officer (CPO), as well as from the personal experiences of local residents interviewed by The Mainstreeter. We were disappointed to learn that the Ottawa Police community statistics crime-mapping tool (https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/crime/Crime-Mapping-Tool.aspx) does not capture online incident reports submitted by residents. Furthermore, we discovered that Freedom of Information rules limit the statistical numbers that one can readily access. Another difficulty in looking at particular categories of crime is that different category codes can be used to describe similar incidents.

A recent screenshot of the Ottawa Police crime-mapping tool shows few criminal incidents in Old Ottawa East. Image by Ottawa Police Service

A recent screenshot of the Ottawa Police crime-mapping tool shows few criminal incidents in Old Ottawa East. Image by Ottawa Police Service

Thus, while we received some information from our CPO relating to criminal incidents in OOE, it was not possible to rank our community relative to other communities throughout the City of Ottawa.

So, what did we learn from the police? While break and enters (B&Es) have increased overall in Ottawa during the pandemic, OEE saw residential B&Es decline from 2019 to 2020 (January 1 to July 6), while non-residential B&Es within our community increased slightly. Bike thefts in Ottawa almost doubled this year when compared with last year, but there was not a significant change in OOE.

We also discovered that there is some seasonality to crime statistics as property crimes (thefts from vehicles, B&Es and bicycle thefts) typically increase in the warmer months. There is no indication that online or computer crimes have been more prevalent during the pandemic than before. In terms of scams/frauds, there is no information available as to whether there has been an increase during the virus lockdown, but the OPS indicated that these types of crimes are typically under-reported and happen regularly.

From our conversations with local residents who have been victims of crime, we discovered that the majority of these crime incidents in OOE happened overnight. In many neighbourhoods, this was the time when cars were rifled through – often even when there was nothing to steal inside the vehicles. Where such incidents were common, residents often only made reports to the OPS if something was actually stolen. Of the residents we spoke to, most thefts from cars or trucks happened when the vehicles were accidentally left unlocked. A number of bicycle thefts were from locked (or in some cases unlocked) sheds or garages, and on at least one occasion, bike theft was through the entry to a garage accessed by first breaking into the car and then using the garage door opener. In a number of cases, thieves were not deterred by long driveways.

We also discovered that there are many opportunities to share information about bike thefts with social media groups, e.g., Stolen Bikes Ottawa. Many residents checked Kijiji, Craig’s list and Garage 529, but none of the residents we interviewed had successfully found their stolen bike using these resources.

CPO Lemieux provided advice on the reporting of incidents as follows: “…it is very important for the community to report criminal incidents in their neighbourhoods…One person’s report could be the piece of the puzzle to solving other reports. …we rely on the community to tell us where the problems are so that we can put our resources in the areas that need them most.” She went on to say that: “Thieves typically look for an unlocked or locked vehicle showing valuables, and once they gain entry, they go through the entire car, including the trunk. It isn’t enough to hide items in the console or under the car seats because the thieves are just that thorough.”

And the residents that we spoke to gave some practical advice as well: remember to lock your car and do not keep any valuables in it; ensure that sheds are well-secured and locked; consider installing security cameras, and be cautious of strangers.

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Tips to prevent residential break and enters:

• Do not leave windows and doors open or unlocked while you are outside on your
property or in a different area of your home.
• If you have an attached garage, always keep the access door between the house and
the garage locked.
• If you have a garage door remote in your vehicle, ensure it is kept out of sight and
keep your vehicle locked.
• Keep valuables and sentimental items you wouldn’t want to lose in a safe and, if possible,
secure the safe to the floor or wall stud.
• Don’t leave purses and wallets just inside your entrance door.
• Install and use a security bar on your patio door.
• Keep the grass cut and shrubs trimmed to give your home a lived-in look.
• Consider security lighting and cameras.
• Watch out for one another. If you see a suspicious person in your neighbour’s
yard or driveway, call the police.

Tips to prevent thefts from your vehicle:

• Remove all Valuables – Never leave anything on display when you leave your
vehicle including loose change, cigarettes, cigarette lighters, sunglasses, CD’s, cell
phones, stereos, cameras, and clothing – if thieves can see it, they will steal it.
• Park Safely – When parking at home, always use your garage if you have one, and
lock both your vehicle and your garage. If you don’t have a garage, try to park in
a well-lit, open place. When parking at work or your local mall, park in a well-lit
open place.
• Remove Portable Accessories – Removing stereo faceplates – locking them in the
trunk or taking them with you, will deter thieves.
• Get an Alarm Installed – Alarms can deter thieves not only from stealing items
from your vehicle, but also from stealing your vehicle. Even if you have an alarm
installed never leave anything in your vehicle. Thieves can smash a window, reach
in, grab an item and be gone in seconds before your alarm is even activated. Caution:
do not set your alarm too sensitive. Storms, wind, and large trucks passing by you vehicle can set it off

Tips to prevent bicycle theft:

• Invest in a durable bike lock or put your bike away in a locked shed or garage.
• Residents living in high rise apartments and condominiums should store their
bike in designated secured enclosures.
• All riders should choose bike racks in areas that offer high visibility and foot traffic
or surveillance.

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