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Dozens of Victoria buildings missing keys, putting security at risk

Security has been compromised for at least 35 multi-unit residential and commercial buildings in Victoria after keys were stolen from their lock boxes.
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Victoria Fire Lt.-Insp. Brad Sifert shows a master key at a Victoria building in 2012.

Security has been compromised for at least 35 multi-unit residential and commercial buildings in Victoria after keys were stolen from their lock boxes.

Victoria police and fire are investigating how the keys went missing from the secure compartments, located on the outside of buildings.

They are used to store keys or key fobs that allow emergency and utility crews to access the buildings’ common areas, such as hallways, stairwells and parking garages.

Master keys to open the boxes are held by fire departments, B.C. Hydro and Telus.

Police were contacted on Thursday by a property manager of a building on View Street who had security video of someone accessing its lock box, a City of Victoria statement said.

Victoria police contacted the fire department, which began inspecting all multi-unit properties and contacting property management firms.

Fire inspectors checked 136 of the 500 multi-unit buildings in Victoria and confirmed 35 are missing keys.

Inspections will continue until all buildings have been checked, said City of Victoria spokeswoman Katie Hamilton.

Police are examining the video surveillance to try to identify the person in it.

Property management companies and building owners are being told to check their lock boxes in case more keys are missing.

Victoria fire said none of its master keys are missing.

It’s unclear if the thief had access to a master key or whether he somehow broke into the lock boxes.

“As much as we like to say they’re infallible, there are ways to break into these lock boxes,” said Victoria police spokesman Const. Mike Russell. “We seized one of those cylinders [and] gave it to our forensic identification team to try to determine how they got into it.”

Russell said there have not been any thefts or burglaries linked to the key thefts.

In April 2012, a master key was stolen from the Victoria Fire Department, allowing a burglar to steal computers with patient information, $10,000 worth of expensive medical equipment and cash from several medical offices at 1990 Fort St. Victoria police also believe the master key was used in several other commercial break-ins in early 2012. A 40-year-old Victoria man with a history of property crime was arrested in that case.

Then-fire chief Jeff Lambert said at the time the fire department had 25 active master keys, plus 12 more that were supposed to be destroyed. He speculated that an old key that was supposed to have been destroyed may have ended up in the wrong hands.

Lock boxes were rekeyed at hundreds of buildings in the region.

kderosa@timescolonist.com