The 13th of September was an unlucky day for Esslinger Motors owner Dan Duckworth.
Early that morning, a thief broke the window of one of the bay doors of the automotive repair shop in downtown Prince George and stole $4,000 worth of hand tools.
The loss would likely have been much more but the culprit who gained entry at about 4 a.m. that day tripped the alarm system and was apparently spooked, leaving behind a $10,000 diagnostic scanning tool that had been placed in a box left at the crime scene.
Rather than filing an insurance claim, which he said would result in higher premiums, Duckworth will have to absorb the cost of replacing those tools.
“In 32 or 33 years we’ve never been broke into, and two winters ago a guy broke in and was found sleeping in here and he got caught, and this year we’ve noticed it’s gotten bad here,” said Duckworth.
Just one day after the break-in, while a mechanic worked underneath a vehicle around noon, a man walked into the garage through one of the open bay doors looking for items to steal, but the mechanic noticed him and chased him down the alley but was unable to catch him.
“Now we can’t even leave bay doors open in the summer to let the guys get fresh air until they all get to work so they can be in the bay to make sure nobody walks in,” said Duckworth. “
Within the last two years, two of his business neighbours – Randy’s Auto Service and Nechako Brake and Wheel - had their buildings set on fire. Two weeks ago, a window-smashing spree caused more than $30,000 damage in the area.
Since the break-in, he’s upgraded his security cameras and sensors as part of a $3,000 alarm system upgrade that recognizes unwanted human traffic after hours. A security company has offered to provide twice daily patrols for his and other businesses in the area but at cost of $12 per visit that adds up to $600 per month. Ultimately, he says his customers would have to bear the brunt of each additional cost through higher shop rates on repairs and he wants to avoid that.
“It feels like this corner of the city has been a sacrificial lamb and they’ve turned a blind eye.”
Duckworth would like to see the Prince George RCMP conduct regular patrols of the area east of Queensway, especially on weekends and evenings, when most of the shops are closed. He wonders what happened to police on bicycles patrolling the downtown core.
"If there was police monitoring this, I wouldn’t have to hire private security,” Duckworth said. “How much of our tax money is going to protecting us down here from what’s happening down here – none of it – and taxes are huge down here. It’s quadruple what house taxes are.”
The closure of the Millennium Park encampment two weeks ago that forced about 30 people to relocate resulted in more homeless people sent to the Moccasin Flats encampment at the east end of Fifth Avenue and he said that justifies more police patrols.
“During the day you might see one police car a day and at night you never see one,” Duckworth said.
He worries for the future of downtown businesses.
“I bought this business from my dad in April, so I own these buildings, but what’s their value right now since I bought it six months ago?” he said. ”If this continues on, in a year, will anybody ever want to buy this business from me?