Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. has announced sweeping changes for its Winnipeg liquor stores, aimed at rolling back a rising tide of brazen, sometimes violent thefts that have plagued employees, security guards and customers the past year.
The Crown corporation unveiled its new multi-point anti-theft plan at a news conference Thursday morning.
MLL director of corporate security Wayne Harrison delivered a dire warning to those who’ve been grabbing bottles off the shelves and skipping the till: "To those out there who are stealing from us... you will be caught."
The anti-theft plan, which has been developed by Harrison’s team, with input from the Winnipeg Police Service, has been in the works for months. New initiatives will be rolled out in Winnipeg Liquor Marts as early as Friday.
MLL will hire and train loss-prevention teams allowed to follow alleged thieves outside the store and place them under citizen’s arrest, which marks a drastic departure from the Crown corporation’s past policy of non-physical intervention.
"We’re quite confident that we will have the impact we want," Harrison said.
MLL will also work with the WPS to expand its use of uniformed special duty constables at targeted Liquor Marts, since their presence has proven an effective deterrent on a trial basis. Additional changes include, but are not limited to, increased customer identification checks, bottle locks, dummy bottles, locked shelves, active alarm pedestals, a no-bag policy, and controlled entrances and exits.
Just what will be implemented, at which stores, will depend on pilot projects to be rolled out in the coming weeks, Harrison said. Security measures taken at each store will vary depending on what MLL officials report at the location, he said.
"The cost is yet to be determined, because it depends on how things roll out in the future; however, there will be no additional costs. We will find the means to enact these additional changes within our existing budget," Harrison said.
WPS Chief Danny Smyth and Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky were on hand for the announcement Thursday.
Both the WPS and MGEU, which represents Liquor Mart employees, have been critical of MLL security practices in the past. Police have pointed to the drain on law enforcement resources the thefts have, while the union has repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of staff.
Both Smyth and Gawronsky welcomed the new anti-theft measures as comprehensive and encouraging.
"I haven’t seen social norms totally disregarded like this in a long, long time... It’s not any one thing that’s going to be the panacea here. There’s a layering of tactics," Smyth said. "Whether it’s a bag check, an ID check, a camera, extra security, having a cop in the store, all of this layered impact I’m hoping will deter people."
Gawronsky said the creation of loss-prevention teams is an important step, but added she would still like to see those employees conferred peace officer status to protect them from possible legal repercussions.
"To those out there who are stealing from us... you will be caught."
— Wayne Harrison, MLL director of corporate security
"We’ll be monitoring, watching how this is going to play out, what is going to happen out there. We’ll be taking our cue from our members. They will let us know if this is working or not," she said.
Thefts at Liquor Marts have made consistent headlines during the past year, with a rise in incidents and store employees — including security guards — being told by MLL brass not to physically intervene.
Harrison admitted Thursday even though there’s been progress made (113 arrests since October 2018) staff members have felt threatened and frustrated. In 2018, MLL said it lost roughly $800,000 to "shrinkage," which includes both thefts and damaged product.
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