Police have formed a crime disruption team to specifically target a group of offenders who have ram-raided and smashed down doors and windows of 30 small business premises across the ACT over the past two weeks.
Hit by the smash-and-grab offenders have been cafes, hairdressing salons, barber shops, clothing stores, pharmacies and a raft of other small retailers.
Police suspect this recent spike in break-ins is drug-related, most likely ice addicts forcing their way into premises to steal cash floats and tips jars, or portable items which can be sold on quickly and untraceably to help feed a drug habit.
The rate of the territory-wide aggravated burglaries, some of which have involving vehicles used to ramraid shopfronts to gain access, has intensified since September 8.
Aggravated burglaries of commercial premises across the territory totalled 162 for the full 12 months last year. The most recent year-to-date count is 99 and now rising fast.
It is not known whether the same group of offenders is involved, or several using a similar modus operandi.
The thieves are understood to be using vehicles to “case” quiet industrial suburbs and small, isolated suburban shopping centres late into the evening and during the early hours of the morning, looking for so-called “soft targets”. If a ramraid isn’t possible, one offender keeps a lookout while another physically breaks in.
For many of these businesses, it’s yet another hit after a tough year and comes after some were forced to shut down for a month or more during the early restrictions of the COVID pandemic.
Police are convinced that these aggravated commercial burglaries, many which involve using a vehicle to force doors or smash down front windows to gain access, are the work of thieves hooked on methylamphetamine and desperate to get cash quickly.
“We believe these property crime matters are drug-related and more specifically, ice-related,” ACT Crime Manager Mark Steel said.
“Addiction makes these offenders desperate for money and they may commit several aggravated burglaries in one night, causing a lot of damage along the way, just to get a few hundred dollars.
“The common thread is that these are criminals looking for soft commercial targets in quiet locations. It’s opportunistic and it usually happens very quickly.”
He said the aggravated burglaries are occurring generally between 11am and 6.30am with industrial suburbs such as Fyshwick a key target, along with quiet suburban shopping centres in areas like Gungahlin, usually away from main traffic thoroughfares.
The offenders are often seeking small cash “floats” – usually a few hundred dollars in small notes and coins – which some businesses keep on their premises overnight.
The offenders also steal anything else they can carry and items they believe have a quick turnover. They have stolen tip jars of coins from cafes and hairdressing salons.
At Seears Workwear, a Fyshwick business that was hit early on Sunday morning, the offenders broke in and stole an old till, the cash float of several hundred dollars, a few pairs of jeans and some embroidered clothing which would immediately be identifiable when worn.
They literally walked right past a shelf holding items of far more significant value.
Police are building an intelligence picture of the offenders and are reluctant to provide too much detail as it may affect lines of investigation,” acting Detective Inspector Mark Steel said.
However, he said the wider community can be of great assistance in providing useful information, and businesses playing their role.
“A priority for business owners is to make their premises less of a target by removing any cash overnight and putting any portable items of value out of sight,” he said.
“Then post a prominent sign on the door saying: ‘no cash kept on premises overnight’.
“We also need people to watch out for unusual or suspicious behaviour near shopping centres and small businesses late at night or early in the morning. Just call us on 131 444 and report things which look out of place, or if they see people loitering around small shops and business premises during those early hours.
“After these burglaries occur, the offenders are driving away quickly. That’s noticeable activity when the roads are quiet. So if people have dash-cam footage of this, then that too can help us identify and catch these offenders.”