$250K up for grabs in hopes of drastically reducing Edmonton liquor store robberies

Click to play video: 'Edmonton-based grant launched to combat liquor store theft' Edmonton-based grant launched to combat liquor store theft
WATCH ABOVE: After thousands of liquor store thefts and robberies in the city, Edmonton police are trying a new tactic to fight a growing problem. As Lisa MacGregor reports, police are turning to entrepreneurs and offering a cash prize in hopes of a solution – Feb 24, 2020

With liquor store robberies on the rise in the city, the Edmonton Police Foundation and Alcanna have teamed up in hopes of finding a solution that will lead to a drastic reduction in the crime.

On Monday, Alcanna — Canada’s largest private sector liquor retailer — announced a new $500,000 grant, half of which will be used as “prize money” for any entrepreneur who produces solutions that drastically reduce liquor store thefts. The remaining $250,000 will be used for administration and commercialization of the potential solution.

READ MORE: $10,000 in booze stolen during multiple Edmonton liquor store thefts: police

The grant is available through the new Community Solutions Accelerator, which will seek proposals from entrepreneurs around the world. Submissions will then be shortlisted by a committee organized by the CSA and Alcanna.

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The successful candidate will have access to CSA integrated data, hardware and artificial intelligence, according to the EPF and Alcanna.

“This is an exciting opportunity, which we believe holds incredible potential for resolving an extremely complex issue that impacts our cities and society on so many levels,” said Ashif Mawji, chair of the EPF, which is spearheading the CSA.

READ MORE: Edmonton police use data, artificial intelligence to combat crime

From 2018 to 2019, Edmonton saw a 300 per cent increase in the number of liquor store robberies, according to the Alberta Liquor Store Association.

Police chief Dale McFee said there was an average of 26 liquor store thefts in Edmonton per day in 2019, adding up to 9,565 thefts in total.

He said police need to try something new to fight the problem before it turns deadly.

“You’re seeing bear spray, you’re seeing knives, you’re seeing guns. The reality of someone getting hurt in this environment, unless we stop it, is going to happen. So if we can get ahead of it and prevent as many of these as we can, let’s get on it,” McFee said.

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Last September, Alcanna — which owns Liquor Depot — told Global News some of its stores were targeted six or seven times in the same day.

The suspects will change clothes or face coverings and go to several stores within a small radius, the company said.

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

The CEO of Alcanna said his company has been working closely with the Edmonton Police Service for nearly two years on the “epidemic” of liquor store robberies and thefts.

“In co-operation with EPS, we have tried various approaches to get these robberies and thefts under control, but with minimal success to date,” James Burns said in a news release Monday. “The risks to the safety of our employees and customers means we must try everything we can to find a creative resolution.

“We had one employee leave last week who had been subject to — I think — six or seven robberies in the last six weeks, and she just had enough.”

Click to play video: '300% spike in liquor store robberies in Edmonton; staff safety a concern' 300% spike in liquor store robberies in Edmonton; staff safety a concern
300% spike in liquor store robberies in Edmonton; staff safety a concern – Sep 24, 2019

READ MORE: ID scanning pilot project launched to combat Edmonton liquor theft epidemic

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This is the first “challenge” to be launched under the new CSA, which was announced last week. The CSA uses amalgamated data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat crime.

The EPF will launch its challenge online this week to put the call out for applications. The goal is to have a shortlist of applications in place for field testing in April. Phase 2 of the project will see those ideas implemented in the field for 90-day trials in mid-May.

The CSA selection committee expects to announce the successful submission in August.

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