Winnipeg retailers faced with a growing theft problem are increasingly turning to police for help.
But rather than calling for service after suffering yet another loss, they're paying for prevention. And being proactive isn't cheap.
The Winnipeg Police Service says 481 off-duty officers have been hired so far this month to serve as armed paid security in malls, Liquor Marts and grocery stores during the busiest shopping period of the year.
Last month, 373 officers were hired, and the number was 310 in October.
Retailers pay $112 plus tax per hour to hire an off-duty constable. A cruiser car is $31.83 per hour. A constable's regular hourly pay ranges from $26.91 to $48.92, but special duty officers are paid time-and-a-half overtime.
Manitoba store losses now account for almost half of one national chain's thefts, a spokesman for the retail industry said he was told by the company.
WPS spokesman Const. Jay Murray said the rising number of officers working "special duty" side jobs correspond to the increase in reported retail thefts in the city.
In 2014 there were 2,855 reported retail thefts, 2,967 in 2015 and 2,647 in 2016, Murray said. But the number rose to 3,709 in 2017 and jumped to 5,989 in 2018.
And there had been 6,569 incidents by the end of September this year.
"Some people think these resources are being diverted off the street, but these officers are all off duty and this is on their own time," he said, adding they have to guard against burning themselves out.
"You need to be careful not to work too much," he said.
And police Chief Danny Smyth said at last week's Winnipeg Police Board meeting that hiring police officers to serve as extra security is strictly a short-term solution.
"Through 2018 to this point we have seen almost a doubling of the number of requests from the public for us to take on this type of duty," Smyth said.
"We can't sustain that in the long term and if the demand goes up any higher I don't think we are going to be able to meet the demand."
John Graham, director of government relations at the Retail Council of Canada, agrees hiring police officers for store security isn't sustainable in the long term, but for now "it's one of the tools used to reduce risk and theft.
"It's for safety for employees and customers and stopping financial loss for businesses."
Graham said national retailers are noticing the high number of thefts in this province are out of step with the rest of the country.
"There's one national retailer who says 40 per cent of all incidents are occurring in Manitoba," he said. "We represent four per cent of the population of the country, so this is a concern that needs to be addressed.
"If your profits are walking out the door you take measures to reduce the risk."
But even uniformed police officers don't deter all theft, Murray said.
"I was working at Superstore (last weekend)... we still had an individual who chose to steal. We found what was obtained — batteries.
"So it still happens even with a marked cruiser car and two officers."
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.
Updated on Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 12:28 AM CST: Adds photo