Victoria police probe robberies linked to stolen fire department key

Victoria fire department officials say no key is missing

Victoria police believe a master key that can fit into lockboxes at the entrances to more than 500 buildings in Victoria - similar to the one held by Const. Mike Russell - was stolen from the Victoria Fire Department. Police say it may explain a recent spike in break-ins.

A master key that investigators believe was stolen from the Victoria Fire Department may account for a spike in the number of business break-ins since early January.

It wasn’t until Monday, after numerous offices at a medical building at 1990 Fort St. were robbed of medical and computer equipment over the weekend, that Victoria police determined a fire department master key was used to gain entry.

The fire department was told about the breach on Monday. Since then, fire officials have accounted for all 25 master keys currently in service. Twelve other keys, made in the same batch in 2003, were previously ordered destroyed.

“I know that they were signed off and taken to the mechanic’s shop and destroyed,” said Victoria Fire Chief Jeff Lambert.

Regardless, fire crews worked around the clock Monday and Tuesday, re-keying cylinder lockboxes at about 530 commercial, office and residential buildings in Victoria. “All hands on duty for this one,” said Lambert. “We have to protect the security of that system.”

With a master key, the fire department, B.C. Hydro and telecommunications companies can access metal or electronic keys inside lockboxes and enter buildings.

“I’ve been told by my inspectors it’s a real anomaly to have access to everything in the building,” Lambert said.

The master key “mishap” could result in changes at the department, he said.

“I want to review our policy on how we store the keys and make sure we are completely up to date in our inventory of keys,” Lambert said, adding the department will also work with property owners to ensure the lockbox system is secure.

Police continue to investigate the weekend theft of eight computer hard drives, two laptop computers and several small items such as stethoscopes from the Fort Street medical building.

While in the area on Sunday, police arrested a 40-year-old Victoria man, known for committing property crimes. He is being held in custody on unrelated warrants, but is considered a person of interest in the master key case.

Acting on information they received, police recovered six hard drives and a few hand-held devices at an undisclosed location. Two hard drives and the laptops are still missing.

Police are also waiting to hear from medical office staff as to whether the stolen hardware contains personal information such as patient records, Russell said.

With the newfound knowledge that thieves have a master key, police investigators plan to review a string of recent unsolved robberies.

“We’ve been trying to put our finger on it, not knowing exactly what has been causing this increase (in commercial break-and-enters),” Russell said. “But really, it would have been helpful to know when (the key) went missing to be able to sort out that timeline.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

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