Pharmacists concerned for safety as robberies increase and COVID vaccine rollout begins

As Calgary pharmacists prepare to roll out doses of COVID-19 vaccines, many are concerned for the safety of their staff and customers due to a large spike in robberies.

Since September of last year, Calgary police say 42 pharmacies have been the target of theft in the city.

Tariq Fareeby, who owns and manages two Calgary Drug Mart locations said he was robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of Nov. 12 after an armed suspect came into his Lincoln Park location.

“I saw the gun under his belt, so then I gave up,” Fareeby said.

“I think there are multiple factors with the frustrations over vaccines, the pandemic, a lack of jobs, and people unable to get prescriptions from their doctors so pharmacies are an easy target."

Fareeby adds that several of his pharmacy friends were also robbed and many are scared as doses of COVID-19 vaccine will soon be administered at several pharmacies across Calgary.

PFIZER VACCINES

Neil Devchand is the owner of Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in the city and already has his staff setting up appointments for independent seniors aged 75 and up to receive the Pfizer vaccine at two of his locations starting on March 5.

Pharmacies expect to offer 40 patients the shot each day, ensuring both doses can be administered with a 38-to-42-day latency period.

“We just want to remind people that there is going to be enough vaccine, so it’s not urgent to rush to your pharmacy or call in a panic,” he said.

However, there is still cause for concern and a greater emphasis on safety.

Devchand’s Hawkwood location was robbed just two weeks ago, where staff were tied up and locked in a back room, while thieves looted the store.

"We definitely have had to become more vigilant and we’ve incorporated a lot more security measures in our pharmacies like limited access and storing some items off site," Devchand said.

“Some of the other measures include validated access, locked doors and we have these magnetic locks we’re used to seeing in jewellery stores -- this seems to be a way of life now.”

CALGARY POLICE INVESTIGATING SPIKE IN ROBBERIES

There is no question that police have seen a large increase in robberies as suspects seek out narcotic items ranging from codeine to cough syrup and everything in between.

In fact, there were 281 commercial robberies in 2020 – 31 of which occurred at pharmacies. For comparison, there were 384 commercial robberies in 2019, but only one occurred at a pharmacy.

Calgary Police Staff Sgt. Kurt Jacobs said that police are continuing to investigate the spike in pharmacy thefts and hope to locate suspects and stop further victimization of staff members.

“We are also working with the Alberta College of Pharmacies on implementation of both short- and long-term prevention measures. Crime prevention officers have been deployed to pharmacies to work on strengthening security protocols and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) efforts,” Jacobs said in a statement released to CTV Calgary.

Police added that there is no indication patients attending pharmacies for vaccination should be concerned for their safety.

Investigators say in general, crimes such as robberies often occur during times when there are few witnesses or patrons in the business.

Anyone who has information about the people responsible for robberies is asked to call the police non-emergency line at (403) 266-1234. Tips can also be left anonymously through Calgary Crime Stoppers.