The days of thieves walking into a Liquor Mart and brazenly bypassing the cashier as they walk out with bottles under their arms may be coming to an end.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries announced on Thursday that new security measures to stem the flow of liquor thefts have already seen positive results.
MLL reports a 55 per cent drop in product "shrinkage" — which includes theft and damaged product — since security was enhanced on March 21. There has also been a 23 per cent reduction in theft and robbery incidents and a 20 per cent increase in the number of arrests.
"While these are still early results, we are cautiously optimistic they are trending in the right direction," MLL president Peter Hak said in a statement.
There has always been theft at Liquor Marts, but the problem escalated last year when store employees and security guards were told by MLL's administration not to attempt to physically stop someone shoplifting bottles of liquor.
Before long, word got out that staff wouldn't intervene and each outlet began seeing people walk in and — instead of running to quickly flee — walk out with bottles of liquor.
It ended up with MLL reporting a loss of about $800,000 in shrinkage in 2018.
In March, MLL, with the help of the Winnipeg Police Service and the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, put together a multi-pronged anti-theft plan which included measures like expanding the use of uniformed special-duty Winnipeg Police constables, increased customer identification checks, bottle locks, dummy bottles, a no-bag policy, and controlled entrances and exits.
"We have some early signs of success — no question," said Wayne Harrison, MLL's director of corporate security. "We have to give credit to the media and public awareness. People are aware there are consequences now."
He wouldn't divulge a figure on what the new security plan is costing the Crown corporation.
"The costs are part of the 19/20 budget. The spending comes from the existing budget," he said. "But at some point customer safety and staff safety is the priority. How do you put a price on safety?"
Jean-Guy Bourgeois, MGEU's director internal operations, said the security results seen so far are "very encouraging.
"The plan is not fully implemented. We applaud the MLL for working with us to implement this plan."
Bourgeois said one part of the plan not in place yet is training loss-prevention teams. "That takes time," he said.
He said it doesn't matter what the cost of the new security is when you look at what is the true savings.
"While we think it is important to reduce losses, our foremost concern is safety of our members and safety of the public shopping," he said.
"Our members are continuing to be on edge because the thefts are continuing, but this gives us hope things will continue to get better."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.