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ID scanning pilot project launched to combat Edmonton liquor theft epidemic

Tech helps battle liquor store robberies in Edmonton
WATCH: Liquor store thefts have become such a big problem in Edmonton one retailer has decided to take action. Fletcher Kent has more on the crime-fighting technology that's helping, among other steps.

For years many bars and nightclubs have used personal identification scanners, and now Edmonton police and Alberta’s largest liquor store owner have launched a pilot project aimed at curbing robberies they say have drastically escalated over the last 18 months.

“In 2019, EPS officers responded to almost 9,600 theft of liquor calls — about 26 calls per day across the city,” Edmonton Police Service Const. Robin Wilson said.

“This represents a 200 per cent increase in liquor store theft calls from 2018.”

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Wilson said the increasing liquor store thefts are placing a tremendous strain on police resources.

READ MORE: North Edmonton liquor store employee seriously injured after being stabbed after alleged theft

“Hence, we’re extremely pleased to see Alcanna taking proactive steps to increase the safety of both their employees and the general public, through the implementation of this ID scanning technology.”

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Alcanna Inc., owner of the Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands, has installed an identification scanning entry system from company PatronScan at three of its locations in Edmonton.

Last fall, the company said that part of the city, along with stores near Groat Road, had been targeted by organized crime groups.

“This is not shoplifting. It is robbery with real or threatened violence,” Alcanna vice-president for loss prevention Joe Cook said in a statement Monday morning.

Reaction to massive spike in brazen liquor store robberies in Edmonton
Reaction to massive spike in brazen liquor store robberies in Edmonton

Surveillance videos released by the company show employees being attacked during the brazen robberies.

READ MORE: Concern for staff safety after 300% spike in Edmonton liquor store robberies

In September 2019, Alcanna CEO James Burns spoke out about the problem, saying he was terrified one of his employees was going to end up getting killed during the robberies.

Alberta Liquor Store Association president Ivonne Martinez said she was told two gangs were responsible for the robberies, who would allegedly turn around and sell the alcohol to “nightclubs and some shady liquor stores” for drugs or guns.

Since revealing the extent of the problem four months ago, Alcanna has been working on a solution.

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“We have been working closely with the Edmonton Police Service and PatronScan on this worsening problem and have decided to conduct a trial using the same technology used in bars and nightclubs,” Cook said.

Personal identification scanners have been used in many Edmonton bars and nightclubs since the early 2000s. In 2015, Edmonton police said about about 30 to 40 per cent of establishments were using them voluntarily.

READ MORE: Edmonton police propose mandatory ID scanners at bars

The PatronScan system requires customers to scan their identification prior to the door unlocking and allowing entry into the store. Alcanna said it’s the first retailer in Alberta to use this type of technology.

“These robberies are increasingly endangering the safety of liquor store employees and customers and costing millions of dollars as well as fueling the drug trade and organized crime gangs,” Cook said.

Some parts of Edmonton hit harder by liquor store robberies
Some parts of Edmonton hit harder by liquor store robberies

Alcanna said other retailers have taken interest in the technology and are considering its use, in a collaborative effort of industry members to enhance safety.

“Just as was done with pre-pay and pay at the pump for gas stations, we are hoping PatronScan creates a safer shopping experience for our customers and staff,” Cook said.

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PatronScan’s website says their system scans all types of government-issued IDs, including driver’s licenses, military cards, passports and international IDs.

PatronScan spokesperson Robbie Butchart said their technology has improved safety for businesses all over the world.

“We have scanned over 100 million ID’s in over 200 cities worldwide.”

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“PatronScan has been able to reduce over 95 per cent of violent incidents by limiting access to the 1 per cent of the population responsible for these crimes,” he claimed.

The company said its system can tell the difference between a real and fake ID. It said customers ID information is not kept in the devices, but stored in PatronScan’s data centre with restricted access. PatronScan said its technology complies with Canadian, Alberta and B.C. legislative and regulatory requirements.

READ MORE: ‘There are reasons to be wary’ of ID scanners at marijuana stores, lawyer warns

An event to demonstrate the pilot project will be held Monday afternoon at an Ace Liquor store in Edmonton’s Beverly area. Alcanna said Edmonton police, PatronScan and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer would be at the event.

Alcanna has 255 liquor stores in Alberta, B.C. and Alaska, and as of January 2020 has 31 cannabis retail stores under the “Nova Cannabis” brand, with 30 in Alberta and one in Toronto.

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