The Edmonton Police Service announced Tuesday that a liquor store ID-scanning pilot project that was launched early this year will be expanded in 2021, including to Calgary, after it saw huge success in reducing thefts and violence.
The pilot project saw a PatronScan system installed at three Alcanna liquor stores in Edmonton, which requires customers to scan their identification prior to the door unlocking and allowing entry into the store.
Police said the initiative saw thefts and violence at those locations drop by 93 per cent.
In 2019, there were 592 incidents at those locations, and so far in 2020 there were just 36.
“Staff at these three locations feel safer, the shopping environments for customers are safer and the risk of violence both in these stores and the surrounding communities has been greatly mitigated,” said Const. Ben Davis.
“This is truly significant.”
Edmonton police said city-wide there have been 5,057 liquor thefts in 2020, up to Dec. 10. That averages out to about 15 incidents per day city-wide.
Alcanna Inc. runs the Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor, Wine and Beyond and Nova Cannabis brands.
In early 2021, six additional stores run by the company in Edmonton will be equipped with the scanners and four will be launched in Calgary.
“The thefts and robberies are becoming more violent and Alcanna is in complete agreement with Chief McFee and the EPS view that the PatronScan pilot project needs to be expanded now,” said James Burns, vice-chair and CEO of Alcanna Inc.
Alberta’s privacy commissioner raised concerns around the program and launched an investigation into it shortly after it was initially started in January. The results of that investigation are not yet public.
However, Davis said Tuesday that the continuing violence in liquor stores was why the program needs to be expanded sooner than later.
“It’s been almost a year,” he said. “And while we’ve waited, we have seen, as I’ve mentioned, these events — firearms being present, increased risk to the public — so from an EPS standpoint, there is a need to act now.”
Patronscan’s CEO Alberio Bathory-Frota said Tuesday that he is still confident that the program will pass the investigation.
“We have been working with the privacy commissioner’s office,” he said. “We’ve been very transparent, giving them all the information (on) how the system works.
“We value their results and we’re looking forward to hearing their results. But they have also looked at (the) technology three times in the past.
“Every time that they do look at it, if there’s recommendations, we always implement the recommendations within the technology,” Bathory-Frota said.
PatronScan said customers’ ID information is not kept in the devices, but stored in PatronScan’s data centre with restricted access.
Edmonton police said in a news release Tuesday that violent crimes around liquor thefts are still a major problem — noting that last week officers responded to two violent robberies at liquor stores involving bear spray.
“We have exhausted our in-house resources trying to manage this issue,” Davis said.
“EPS is hemorrhaging upwards of $1 to $4 million in front-line resources in 2020 alone, responding to and investigating liquor theft.
“As we’ve mentioned publicly before, this is unsustainable for so many reasons, the most important of which is the increased risk to those who work in this industry, and to our communities across our province.”
Manitoba launched a similar program in its government-run liquor stores last year after a series of brazen and violent robberies in that province.
Chief Dale McFee said he would like the program to be expanded provincially — but that would likely need government support.
“This is a great start, though one company alone cannot solve this problem,” McFee said.
“Criminals will just move to another store without ID scanners down the street.
“Without proper government support to ensure a uniform application of this initiative, we risk displacing victimization, which also isn’t acceptable.”
Alcanna has 270 liquor and cannabis stores in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Alaska, which include 34 cannabis retail stores under the Nova Cannabis brand, with 33 in Alberta and one in Toronto.