December 6, 2019

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'Brazen, dangerous' criminals steal $800K in booze over last 12 months

Thieves have made off with roughly $800K in product from Manitoba Liquor Marts in the last 12 months.

That’s according to data released by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Wednesday, in response to media inquiries about what police are calling a serious spike in crime at local stores.

MLL's surveillance and security department hands over video footage and notes about store thefts to the Winnipeg Police Service. The recent rash of incidents has resulted in a serious drain on the resources of the major crimes unit, police say.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

MLL's surveillance and security department hands over video footage and notes about store thefts to the Winnipeg Police Service. The recent rash of incidents has resulted in a serious drain on the resources of the major crimes unit, police say.

While liquor theft has always been a concern for the provincial Crown corporation, the past 12 months have seen not just an increase in thefts, but also an increase in volatility, according to an MLL spokeswoman.

Security guards at the stores have been instructed not to physically intervene when thefts are in progress.

"We have security guards stationed in a number of Winnipeg Liquor Marts that play an important role in observing, detecting and deterring theft. Our security guards are trained to approach people they think may be stealing, speak with them, and discourage them from leaving the store with the product," the spokeswoman said in a written statement.

"(That is) a method that is usually successful with the traditional shoplifter.... What we have been experiencing recently has been a completely different type of scenario. These criminals are brazen and dangerous when confronted, as seen in previously reported incidents."

On Tuesday, the Winnipeg Police Service said it has received 1,277 reports of Liquor Mart thefts this year — an average of five per day. In the first 11 days of September alone, there were 95 reports forwarded to police, an average of about eight per day.

MLL did not respond to a request for clarification on whether every theft is being reported to police. Total annual sales for the Crown corporation are just under $800 million.

"It should be noted that even with the recent increase in these types of incidents, our shrinkage remains low. In the past 12 months it was approximately 0.2 per cent of total sales. In the previous 12 months it was 0.13 per cent," the spokeswoman said.

"This translates to an increased cost, of products stolen, of approximately $200,000."

Police believe many of the thieves are selling the stolen liquor online, indicating the problem is a more organized criminal effort than traditional shoplifting.

While the MLL's surveillance and security department hands over video footage and notes about the thefts to the WPS, the rash of incidents has resulted in a serious drain on the resources of the major crimes unit, police said.

'It is our understanding that a policy of non-violent crisis intervention is the norm at retailers across the country.... No price is worth anyone being seriously hurt over a bottle of spirits' – Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries

Const. Jay Murray said Tuesday that police believe the MLL needs to do a better job at preventing the thefts, rather than relying on "reactive policing."

In response, MLL said that while it's continuing to "explore new ways to address the issue of growing theft in our Liquor Marts," it already implements industry best practices in combating theft, with "internal security policies that are similar to, if not the same, as most major retailers."

A spokesperson for Minister of Crown Services Colleen Mayer said the increase in thefts from MLL locations was flagged to the previous minister, Cliff Cullen, as well as the new minister when she took over the file Aug. 1.

In the coming days Mayer and the MLL Chair Polly Craik will be sitting down for a face-to-face meeting and theft will be one of the items on the agenda, the spokesperson said.

Despite the directive given to security guards to not intervene, MLL stressed it isn't standing idly by.

"We employ state-of-the-art security equipment that captures high-definition images from all angles, and our surveillance and security department works seven days a week diligently, investigating and reporting incidents," the spokeswoman said.

"It is our understanding that a policy of non-violent crisis intervention is the norm at retailers across the country.... No price is worth anyone being seriously hurt over a bottle of spirits."

— With files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 6:59 PM CDT: A previous version of this story said $1.6 million in liquor was stolen. That figure was based on erroneous numbers provided by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

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