Police go incognito at robbery hotspots after traders complain
Plain-clothed police officers have been deployed in east Belfast in a bid to catch the criminals behind a spate of commercial robberies and break-ins.
Several businesses have been targeted in recent months by armed robbers and burglars, forcing some to consider moving out of the area.
Within the first six months of the year there were 20 robberies at business properties in the east of the city according to PSNI statistics.
One local business owner said yesterday that he has been forced to spend £3,000 on security measures after his clothing store was broken into last month.
Following complaints to the PSNI from local business owners police have reportedly increased their presence at robbery hotspots in the area in an effort to disrupt those responsible.
"Having spoken to the Chief Constable he indicated that plain clothed officers were to be placed in the area and there would be a higher police presence. He also indicated he was putting an officer in charge of these robberies," Policing Board member Robin Newton said.
The DUP MLA added: "There has been a spate of robberies in the area, many of them opportunistic and others clearly well planned out. There is a feeling among the business community that they need to see some results from the police operations."
The PSNI said in response to recent incidents, a dedicated operation has been put in place across Belfast tasked with addressing business-related crime.
David James Kerr, owner of a clothes shop in the Holywood Arches area, said he was almost put out of business when burglars stole designer clothes worth £15,000 from the premises last month.
Two men broke in through a skylight at the David James Kerr store, which only opened seven months ago. They ransacked the shop and stole thousands of pounds of stock, including unique brands sold by very few outlets.
Mr Kerr said he believes it is only a matter of time before he is targeted again.
"I am very disappointed by the police response. I haven't had any feedback from them at all. Since my burglary I have spoken to other local business owners who have been targeted.
"I am worried now coming up to Christmas as it is more than likely I will be targeted again," said Mr Kerr.
He added: "Since the burglary I have spent £3,000 upgrading our security. I have heat sensors, motion sensors, you have to buzz to get into the store, and we have an alarm that goes straight through to police control. But sure, who knows what the police response time would be? They could be gone by the time police arrive."
PSNI Chief Inspector David Moore said police have held a series of meetings in recent months with local business owners and retailers in east Belfast to discuss concerns.
He said: "In response to recent incidents we have a dedicated policing operation in place across Belfast tasked with addressing business-related crime.
"In addition, our crime prevention officers are working in local communities, highlighting simple and effective steps businesses can take to prevent this sort of crime, from installing alarms, CCTV systems and drop safes, through to cash handling and transfer techniques which help reduce any vulnerabilities."
Mr Moore said police are in the process of planning a business crime prevention event and will continue to meet the business community.
"We would encourage any business, retailer or indeed any member of the public keen to learn more about crime prevention advice, to call their local Crime Prevention Officer on 101," he said.
A number of burglaries at residential properties in the area are also under police investigation.
In the most recent incident rings were stolen from a woman's fingers after three masked men forced their way into her Grand Parade home on Sunday.
The victim's hands were bound during the aggravated burglary.
And just a few weeks earlier four masked men tried to rob a pensioner at his home in the nearby Dunraven Avenue.