November 19, 2018

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Shoplifting siege at city Liquor Marts rages on; guards told not to intervene

Winnipeg Liquor Marts have been hit by thieves an average of five times per day in 2018 and the security guards employed to protect the stores are not intervening to stop the rash of thefts.

The Winnipeg Police Service has received 1,277 theft reports from city liquor marts this year. Since the beginning of September alone, there's been 95 — an average of about eight per day.

Multiple sources familiar with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries operations told the Free Press liquor mart security guards have been told not to intervene when people steal. That information was corroborated by WPS Const. Jay Murray at a Tuesday press conference.

“It’s my understanding that (the security guards) are not (intervening). Often what happens is these individuals will walk into a store, they start to load up liquor or steal it and then they just walk out,” Murray said.

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Winnipeg Liquor Marts have been hit by thieves an average of five times per day in 2018 and the security guards employed to protect the stores are not intervening to stop the rash of thefts.

The Winnipeg Police Service has received 1,277 theft reports from city liquor marts this year. Since the beginning of September alone, there's been 95 — an average of about eight per day.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>An MLL employee attends to a display at the Pembina Express mini liquor mart in the Pembina Village Safeway. Sources say Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries liquor mart security guards have been told not to intervene when people steal.</p></p>

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Files

An MLL employee attends to a display at the Pembina Express mini liquor mart in the Pembina Village Safeway. Sources say Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries liquor mart security guards have been told not to intervene when people steal.

Multiple sources familiar with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries operations told the Free Press liquor mart security guards have been told not to intervene when people steal. That information was corroborated by WPS Const. Jay Murray at a Tuesday press conference.

"It’s my understanding that (the security guards) are not (intervening). Often what happens is these individuals will walk into a store, they start to load up liquor or steal it and then they just walk out," Murray said.

Police have witnessed a significant spike in liquor thefts over the past year, according to Murray, who said the situation is having a serious impact on police resources since the investigations are labour intensive.

"We don’t have numbers from 2017 to provide, but in speaking with investigators this is a significant increase over what we’ve seen in the past. These types of files can create a substantial drain on the resources of our detectives, especially in our major crimes unit," Murray said.

In a written statement, MLL communications officer Susan Harrison confirmed the Crown corporation has been seeing an increase in product loss, adding "the numbers the Winnipeg Police Service stated earlier today are consistent" with what employees have been witnessing.

On Tuesday, police released the names of two men recently charged in a string of liquor mart thefts over recent months. Combined, the two men are accused of committing 132 thefts.

Matthew James Swampy, 18 of Winnipeg, has been charged in connection with 52 thefts dating from Feb. 14 to Aug. 20. David Norman Lee Ross, 18 of Winnipeg, has been charged in connection with 80 thefts dating from March 19 to Sept. 7.

The two men have been detained in custody. In both cases, police believe the suspects were selling the stolen liquor online.

'It’s my understanding that (the security guards) are not (intervening). Often what happens is these individuals will walk into a store, they start to load up liquor or steal it and then they just walk out' – WPS Const. Jay Murray

"We believe they’re selling these bottles online shortly after. They’re probably consuming some of it, but we believe ultimately they’re selling this liquor," Murray said.

While there are certain liquor marts being hit harder than others, the thefts have become a problem all over the city, Murray said.

It remains unclear when MLL security guards were told not to intervene into thefts in progress. On Tuesday, police hinted that it was time for the Crown corporation to do a better job at loss prevention.

"We will always work with businesses or agencies to mitigate crime, but there is a certain onus on all business to prevent these types of offences from occurring. Prevention, rather than just reactive policing, will be a key component to alleviate this problem," Murray said.

Murray also pointed to the dangers posed to security guards — and law enforcement — when confronting people engaged in shoplifting.

He highlighted the recent attack of an off-duty RCMP officer who stopped a group of teenagers stealing from a liquor store on North Town Road in Bridgwater Centre. When the Mountie confronted the thieves, they attacked him.

"I’ve watched the video; unfortunately I can’t release it, but this person was pelted with liquor bottles. That can show you what can happen if you approach them," Murray said.

A 16-year-old boy later turned himself in to police for his role in the theft and assault. The WPS estimates he stole roughly $11,000 worth of liquor from various stores in a string of 24 incidents.

Harrison also pointed to the assault of the off-duty Mountie as a concern for MLL and the security guards it employs.

"As you are aware from previously reported incidents, we have seen that when someone tries to intervene, the situation can very quickly escalate, leading to people being harmed," she said.

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 Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 10:47 PM CDT: Fixes typo in photo caption.

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