Liquor stores in Manitoba trying to stem increase in shoplifting
By The Canadian Press
By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s government-owned liquor stores are experiencing an increase in shoplifting — sometimes by groups brazenly loading large quantities of booze into bags and scurrying out — and there appears to be no quick solution.
Social media posts in recent weeks have shown photos and videos of people grabbing bottles of alcohol, filling backpacks or bags, and walking out of stores without being stopped.
In one recent video posted online, a customer wrestled one suspected thief to the ground while others walked out the door.
The Crown corporation that oversees alcohol sales announced new security measures in March such as lockable displays for high-value products and extra security guards, but things haven’t really changed.
“We have tried a number of different things and nothing has been able to stop it,” Andrea Kowal, spokeswoman for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, said Wednesday.
“I would hope that we’re mitigating it and some things are working in some stores but … there is no silver bullet. If there was a silver bullet, we would have found it by now.”
Other retailers face similar problems and also have a hands-off policy when it comes to shoplifters to avoid violence, Kowal said.
Liquor thefts started spiking in the summer of 2018, she said, when media reports mentioned that liquor-store workers and loss-prevention officers are told not to intervene physically.
Some 10 to 20 liquor thefts are reported every day in Winnipeg alone, the city’s police force said earlier this week. And in some cases the thieves have weapons.
The thefts have workers feeling stressed.
“We’re very, very worried that someone is going to be seriously hurt or even killed at the rate they’re going,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.
Gawronsky plans to discuss concerns at a meeting next month with Premier Brian Pallister.
Wide-ranging suggestions have been floated on social media. A common one recommends reverting to liquor stores of the 1960s, when stock was kept behind counters and customers paid for their booze before it was retrieved for them. Retail outlets such as the former Consumer Distributing used that model into the 1980s.
Kowal and Gawronsky agree that is not the answer.
“We have over 20 stores in the city,” Kowal said. “To convert 20 stores … would not only take millions of dollars — far more than we’re losing in theft — it would also take years.”
The change could also lead thieves to switch to armed holdups of clerks or to target customers after they leave a store, Kowal added.
Police have made arrests in many cases. The stores have video surveillance and some have special constables stationed at peak hours.
Kowal is hoping thieves get the message that even if they manage to walk out the door with stolen booze, they’re not home free.
“Thefts may be quite high but the arrests are extremely high as well.”
— Steve Lambert
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2019