EDMONTON — An Edmonton-based retailer of wine, liquor, beer and cannabis is testing an ID-scanning technology used in nightclubs to address a growing number of thefts at its stores.
Last year, the Edmonton Police Service said it responded to about 9,600 thefts from liquor stores — an average of 26 per day.
"We just can't continue to see everything escalate like it has," Const. Robin Wilson said at a news conference Monday. "There's been a dramatic increase in liquor thefts over the last several years, specifically over the last two years."
Wilson said there's been a 200 per cent increase from 2018, when there were just over 2,700 thefts.
Alcanna Inc., which runs Liquor Depot, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis, said the thefts are a public safety concern and have a huge cost.
"These robberies are increasingly endangering the safety of liquor store employees and customers and costing millions of dollars, as well as fuelling the drug trade and organized crime gangs," Joe Cook, Alcanna's vice-president for loss prevention, said in a news release.
The company has teamed with the Edmonton Police Service to install a PatronScan entry system at one store in northeast Edmonton. It will require customers to scan valid ID, such as a driver's licence, to gain entry to the store and will expand to other stores in the coming weeks.
"It's a very minor, minor inconvenience to the public to basically scan your ID in order to ensure your safety and the safety of the workers," said Wilson.
She said liquor store thieves range from people with alcohol addictions taking a couple of bottles to groups with duffel bags and wheeled suitcases to take larger amounts.
Alberta Justice said there is evidence that criminal gangs are fuelling the increase in thefts in cities such as Edmonton and Calgary.
The department has established a working group to come up with ways to protect Albertans from the public safety threat.
Brad Rutherford, an MLA for Leduc-Beaumont and former police officer who's leading the working group, said it will take a look at the prosecution rate for the crimes.
"Fifty per cent of the cases are dropped and then two per cent of the cases reach a conviction, so overall it's one per cent," he said. "In hearing that number, I find that disappointing.
"To me, we need to be looking at the cases that law enforcement are putting forward. What does the Crown need to be able to be more successful at prosecuting those ... to be more successful at deterring this using the justice system?"
Rutherford's group is also to look at other actions to stop thefts, including enhanced security features for stores, enforcement strategies and other deterrence measures.
Similar measures are being promised in Manitoba, where government-run stores have said they have been "under siege" for more than a year.
One robbery in November turned violent when a thief punched a worker unconscious and left her with a concussion and other injuries.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries has beefed up some security measures.
New entrances will require customers to show photo identification before being allowed in. The new doorway has been installed in at least one store and the corporation aims to eventually have similar ones in all its Winnipeg stores.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020