One of the principles that sustains Winnipeg as a civil society is the tacit agreement that everyone adheres to a minimal level of acceptable conduct. This includes the understanding that criminal actions have consequences.
That’s why it’s alarming to learn Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MLL) officials have instructed its security guards not to intervene when they see thieves stealing bottles of liquor from retail outlets.
It apparently didn’t take long for word to spread that, at Winnipeg liquor stores, criminal actions seldom have consequences. There is an average of eight thefts per day at liquor stores.
It’s often more serious than someone slipping a bottle into their coat pocket. Some thieves are walking out with their arms full, unimpeded by store staff. So much is being stolen, some thieves have taken to selling the stolen alcohol online.
There are several reasons why the public should be concerned that, apparently, word on the street is that it’s a free-for-all at Manitoba Liquor Marts.
First, taxpayers have a vested interested in MLL, a Crown corporation, and want assurance that responsible people are in charge of the distribution of alcohol and the revenue it produces. That assurance is shaken when records show thieves stole $800,000 worth of alcohol products last year, at the same time as MLL executives told its security staff not to physically confront thieves caught in the act.
Second, Winnipeg police say resources are being seriously taxed by the MLL practice of declining to deal with the problem on the spot, choosing instead to hand video footage to police well after the fact, when it’s much tougher to apprehend the culprits.
MLL noted in a statement Wednesday that it’s wrong to think security staff are standing idly by while thieves peruse and purloin the products. It said staff "observe and detect" thieves, speak to them and "discourage" them from stealing. But security guards must avoid physical confrontation, a restriction apparently well known by thieves who view grab-and-run liquor as an opportunity to profit online.
MLL describes an unusually aggressive brand of shoplifters who are "brazen and dangerous" when confronted. In one case, an off-duty RCMP officer who confronted teenagers stealing from a Liquor Mart was attacked and pelted with bottles.
The challenge facing MLL is understandable. No one wants security guards or customers to be endangered by liquor-store violence, which could easily escalate if thieves are armed. At the same time, police don’t have the resources to adequately investigate and prosecute the 1,277 reports of thefts from Liquor Marts this year alone.
"The Crown monopoly posted profits of more than $586 million last year; surely some of that revenue could be redirected toward store security and loss prevention."
MLL, on the other hand, does have resources to beef up its security. The Crown monopoly posted profits of more than $586 million last year; surely some of that revenue could be redirected toward store security and loss prevention.
The problem will be discussed at an upcoming meeting between MLL chairwoman Polly Craik and Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer. It might be productive to include Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth and ask his advice on how liquor-store security could be better.
In its statement, the MLL noted that its Liquor Marts currently employ industry best practices in combating theft, which are in line with those of most major retailers. What’s clear is that those "best practices" did not contemplate the current attitudes and tactics of thieves targeting Manitoba liquor stores. The task of the meeting, then, must be to arrive at a better set of best practices — one that protects staff, customers, inventory and the tax dollars of Manitobans.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.