Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is keeping the price tag for its security overhaul of the Tyndall Market Liquor Mart under wraps as it prepares to roll out controlled entrances to its 30 other Winnipeg locations.
A MLL spokeswoman twice told the Winnipeg Free Press costs for the controlled entrance project would be made public last Friday, but later back-pedalled on that commitment. According to MLL, disclosing costs to renovate the Tyndall Market entrance and estimates to retrofit its other locations could compromise the tendering process.
Renovations to the Crown corporation-operated store at Keewatin Street and Burrows Avenue were already underway when three people armed with knives entered the store, took product from the shelves and, before fleeing, assaulted three employees, sending one to hospital in critical condition.
The robbery closed the store for a week while crews completed their work and forced MLL to move up a planned announcement that controlled entrances would be implemented at all Winnipeg Liquor Marts.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation prairie region director said security investments by MLL are warranted, but he still wants to see what it's going to cost.
"If they've got an (request for proposals) ongoing, that's one thing. But transparency is important," said Todd MacKay. "They need to be careful about providing those costs. If they want to delay that a little bit, that's one thing, but they need to be erring on the side of transparency.
"Sometimes there are important investments that need to be made. Folks who work at Liquor Marts need to be safe," he added. "As long as people are going to be behind those counters and standing in line, the government does have a responsibility to make sure they're safe."
The new controlled entrances include the addition of two secured booths with a hardened-glass transaction windows in the entrance and exit vestibule. The booth is staffed by at least one uniformed security guard who checks customer identification and scans ID cards to confirm the document’s validity and the holder’s age. Guards control access to the store by hitting a button within the booth to unlock the door.
A scan of online security supply companies shows transaction windows similar to those installed at the Tyndall Market store can range in price from US$1,400 to US$2,500, depending on size, functionality and glass treatment. At the lower end of the spectrum, purchasing transaction windows for Liquor Marts in the city could cost at least $85,000 before labour, materials and technology-enhancement costs are factored in.
Staffing the booths for eight hours a day could add upwards of $60,000 annually, per guard.
The controlled-access initiative is one facet of the corporation's multi-pronged approach to address an alarming spike in liquor thefts at its stores and to protect both customers and employees.
Between Nov. 11 and Nov. 24, law enforcement agencies and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries crime prevention teams have arrested 56 people allegedly involved in more than 900 thefts in the province's Liquor Marts.
Of the 50 most recent arrests, which are posted publicly on MLL's website, 26 people are listed as being involved in multiple incidents.
— Source: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, www.mbll.ca/stoptheft
For months, there has been a spike in the number of incidents involving groups of thieves swarming stores to steal products, some of whom have been armed with bear spray, pipes and knives. The number of incidents is increasing; police say there are between 10 and 30 theft and robbery incidents every day at liquor stores across the city.
In March, MLL initiated an enhanced security program with bottle locks for high-value merchandise, dummy bottles, in-store surveillance monitors and trained loss-prevention teams and also expanded the presence of Winnipeg Police Service officers on its sales floors. Information made available by MLL in May indicated a 55 per cent reduction in the loss of products since those measures were introduced.
A statement on the MLL website, however, said past initiatives have not "been able to demonstrably stem the number and frequency of the thefts and robberies."
MLL declined to provide year-to-date information on lost, stolen and unaccounted merchandise, referred to in retail as "shrinkage." A spokeswoman said that information was being updated and would be available this week.
John Graham, director of government relations with the Retail Council of Canada's prairie region, said there is no reliable data on costs incurred by retailers for security and theft prevention, making comparisons on security spending and shrinkage difficult. Retail theft is estimated at $172-million annually (an average of 1.44 per cent of total sales), he said.
"Because costs of prevention investments is by store and not tracked, we don’t know what the total costs would be," Graham said. "(I) would assume the investments are less than the total theft, as most incidents aren’t a safety issue, so it boils down to what the best net investment is for a business."