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Liquor retailers deploy latest tools to combat loss

Video surveillance was a topic of focus at the June 2007 inaugural meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia of the Canadian Liquor Jurisdictions corporate securityloss prevention directors, managers and security professionals.

The meeting was held at the opening of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation’s (NSLC’s) Corporate Security/Loss Prevention Conference, whose co-chairs are William S. Cowper  of Nova Scotia and Donna Morse of B.C. Cowper and Morse both have law enforcement backgrounds. Cowper was a career sergeant in the Halifax Regional Police; Morse served in the RCMP.

In Cowper’s personal opinion, loss prevention departments of liquor retailers have a responsibility to liquor boards/commissions/corporations and the general public. Cowper says “certain social responsibilities are written into the respective provincial liquor control acts”, but Cowper believes that retailing beverage alcohol products carries a particularly heavy burden for CS/LP because of the different nature of the commodity, and the legislated responsibilities don’t speak to all the dynamics involved in the retail of alcohol.

Alcohol is a controlled substance, and as such, loss prevention efforts to prevent crimes or losses have to be measured differently. Cowper says unlike other retailers, the metric used to measure shrink when a theft or robbery occurs in the liquor business is more than the monetary sum of the product lost.

Cowper uses the example of a recent theft in one of his stores when a suspect was taken into custody with the help of an off-duty police officer only to be released later, charged with theft under $5,000. The same suspect returned to the same store within 90 minutes and committed an armed robbery when he pulled a large butcher knife on a security guard who attempted to prevent him from leaving the store with a bottle of liquor in plain sight. The “silent witness” testimony of the store video surveillance system and the observations of staff resulted in the suspect’s arrest, and will speak volumes at sentencing after conviction.

Cowper says beyond the very specific nature of the product, beverage alcohol is routinely targeted by organized criminals, parolees, and drug addicts who can often sell the stolen goods for fair market value, or in some circumstances, for more than they are worth. He uses the example of a NSLC store break-and-enter where multiple youths with hockey type kit bags targeted pints of alcohol that Cowper believes were destined for the underage drinker.

The social consequences of crimes involving alcohol are unlike other crimes. It is safe to assume that stolen alcohol will result in some illegal abuse in the community necessitating intervention by authorities such as law enforcement, emergency and fire services, and social workers; all at a cost to the community. The NSLC has been proactive in regard to making its liquor stores safe and fun places to shop for its customers, safe environments for its employees, and hard targets for criminals.

The NSLC employs networked digital video surveillance assets (supplied by Pacesetter Technologies ”“ Dartmouth, N.S.) in the majority of NSLC stores. High quality video surveillance cameras are being deployed not only in consumer areas, but also in the store office (cash and safe area), warehouses, and outside perimeters of the stores.

Other overt cameras are now being used at the cash counters with a forward plan for integration with the proposed new POS system. Cowper does not believe in covert installations where employees are merely suspected of wrongdoing, and only resorts to these tools when all other investigative methods have been exhausted.

Cowper is a stronger advocate of exception-based reporting tools at the POS level that trigger scrutiny and investigation for correction, compliance or follow-up criminal investigations where warranted. New provincial “Workplace Violence Regulations” have identified liquor stores as high risk retail locations and as such there is a plan to upgrade all remaining stores with networked DVR’s and integrated work alone alarm systems.

The NSLC runs it’s own 24/7 store alarm monitoring system from their head office in Halifax for all 108 retail stores in the province, as well as monitoring alarms and video surveillance for the distribution center. The NSLC also employs online “Armed Robbery Response Training”, and “Responsible Retailing 101”, two specific HR LMS (learning management system) training tools that teach employees the responsibilities of retailing liquor products safely and within the scope of the law, as well as how to react in situations such as an armed robbery.

These human resource training tools are complimented by routine store visits, store security audits, and store level and regional manager’s meetings to train staff. Cowper states his department is working closely with the NSLC IT business unit in planning and deployment of IT resources such as the networked DVR’s, along with the NSLC chosen vendor, (EVS ”“ Stanley Security Systems).

The NSLC also now uses an IT-based investigative case management system called Perspective, from Edmonton-based PPM2000,  which employs an easy to use front end data entry tool at the store level and 24/7 security desk called “eReporting.”

Reports to the police in regards to thefts from NSLC stores are now better received because of the quality of the images from NSLC’s new systems, and the follow up done by NSLC investigators. In particular, identification shots of theft suspects caught by the use of height strip hidden cameras strategically placed at exits have resulted in countless successful prosecutions.

All of these proactive and reactive CS/LP tools and methodologies help the NSLC LP/E team assist in the vision of the NSLC to be a superb retailer in Nova Scotia. Cowper believes that working closely with law enforcement and taking ownership of assisting in ensuring safer communities pays dividends for the NSLC. All reported crimes to the police result in a police “CD-ROM Police Disclosure” disc being created for the police investigator.

Two essential elements are captured by the video, 1. the “actus reus” (physical act) of the crime is realized by capturing the recording of all cameras in the store for the duration of the criminal event (silent witness ”“ ”˜one plus one’ rule), as well as 2. “identification shots” in the form of multiple single .jpg images, couple to provide the police with the best evidence possible. The social impact of a theft or robbery from NSLC stores has a ripple effect in the community and the goal of the NSLC LP/E effort is to minimize that effect as much as possible.

The goal of the recent Corporate Security/Loss Prevention conference in Halifax is to formulate a mandate for information exchange and sharing of best practices amongst Canadian Liquor Jurisdictions and reporting to the respective executives on those endeavors with a view to crystallizing a vision for the best of breed in CS/LP practices for all liquor stores in Canada, including how best to use video surveillance assets. 


August 13, 2007
By Elliott Goldstein

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