Edmonton police want city to consider making ID scanners mandatory at all liquor stores

Click to play video: '‘This is just a Band-Aid solution’: Not all Edmonton liquor stores want ID scanners at entrance' ‘This is just a Band-Aid solution’: Not all Edmonton liquor stores want ID scanners at entrance
WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton police officer is calling on city council to make ID scanners mandatory at all liquor store entrances to prevent violent thefts. Dan Grummett reports on why the idea could meet more than an ounce of resistance – Jan 18, 2022

Edmonton police want to see ID scanners at the entrance of every liquor store in the city and he’s hoping city councillors will help make it happen.

Controlled entrances — entryways that require a person to scan their identification before they can enter the store — were implemented as a pilot project at several Edmonton liquor stores in early 2020.

Read more: AGLC, Edmonton mayor speak about spike in liquor store robberies across Alberta

Acting Sgt. Ben Davis said that has led to a 93-94 per cent reduction in crime at those locations and a 100 per cent reduction in violent events at those locations. It has also led to retail savings (from stolen product) of 95 to 97 per cent, Davis said.

“From an EPS standpoint, this is about community safety. But I took this on to give voice to the staff members who came to me in 2018 and told me this was an issue.

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“We tried everything else, everything. And when we zoned in on controlled entrances… the data simply held up against everything.”

EPS said Davis is part of an industry-wide collaborative working group that has been studying the liquor theft issue in Edmonton and across Alberta. It was that group that came up with the controlled entrance concept, which is also being piloted at some stores in Calgary.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton liquor store ID scanning pilot to expand after huge drop in thefts' Edmonton liquor store ID scanning pilot to expand after huge drop in thefts
Edmonton liquor store ID scanning pilot to expand after huge drop in thefts – Dec 15, 2020

Davis said that because only a few stores implemented ID scanners, there was “displacement” of crime — the thefts started happening at other liquor stores that didn’t have the controlled entrances. That’s why, he says, the scanners should be implemented uniformly across the city.

Read more: Quartet of Calgary liquor stores to install customer ID-scanning system

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“The reason we’re going through the municipal hoops right now is to garner that support, recognize that we have to be the ones to pioneer and implement an effective framework.

“The conversations I’ve had with communities around the province indicate all eyes are on us. They’re kind of waiting to see what we do because they have faith that what we’re doing is the right way to do it, but it’s never been done before. So we’re looking for that leadership municipally that can take this by the reins.”

Davis said he has spoken with about 50 small business owners and has heard “unanimous support” for mandated controlled entrances.

But not everyone is onboard.

David Owens, the owner of Sherbrooke Liquor and board chair of the Alberta Liquor Store Association, doesn’t support the idea.

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“There are so many stores out there that aren’t affected by thefts,” he said. “And a lot of small business owners, a lot of small, independent stores — they’re the ones that aren’t really affected by this as much and they’re the ones that will be heavily affected by this kind of bylaw going in.

“It really was just a certain retailer and mostly in certain parts of the city, so it really wasn’t affecting all over the place,” Owens said.

The technology comes at a cost. The price for PatronScan hardware is $2,495, and that doesn’t include installation. Then, the subscription is $288 a month for unlimited scans.

“Some of the small mom-and-pop shops are just getting by,” Owens said. “They’re jobs for the family and that’s it.”

He said he’s sympathetic to police for having to deal with a spike in thefts — which he said peaked prior to the pandemic — but calls mandatory ID scanners “a Band-Aid solution.”

Owens believes this is part of a bigger systemic problem involving repeat offenders being arrested and then released back into the community.

Read more: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries reporting success with new secure entrances

Both Davis and Owens said the liquor thefts are linked to criminal organizations and the stolen product is used as street-level currency.

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Davis agreed Edmonton can’t arrest its way out of this problem. But he said violence is a big concern and police can’t be everywhere at once.

“The driving force behind this is more than what police can arrest their way out of, and a uniform application, much like what Manitoba did, is the only way to stem this entirely.”

He believes without mandatory controlled entrances at every Edmonton liquor store, it’s just a matter of time before an employee is killed on the job.

“We had a close call two weeks ago. It’s not the first (time) people have been stabbed trying to interject with offenders. I’ve arrested these offenders in the past. They’re known gang members. We’ve got firearms off these people,” Davis said.

“The change is going to happen one of two ways. It’s either going to be with leadership at the helm — municipal or provincial — or it’s going to be reactionary because of an avoidable death in the industry.”

Click to play video: 'Scan of government ID now required at Calgary liquor store locations' Scan of government ID now required at Calgary liquor store locations
Scan of government ID now required at Calgary liquor store locations – Apr 29, 2021

The city is running a public survey on behalf of the EPS about the issue of liquor store safety and controlled entrances. It was originally supposed to close Tuesday, but it has been extended for another week, until Jan. 25 at 11:59 p.m.

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The survey asks Edmontonians questions like: how safe do you feel at liquor stores? Have you used a liquor store with a controlled entrance? Does that make you feel less or more safe? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable scanning your ID to enter a store? What concerns do/would you have about scanning your ID before entering a liquor store?

It also shows a video of a violent theft at a liquor store.

Read more: Privacy commissioner flags issues with ID-scanning at Alberta liquor stores

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the results of the ID scanner pilot would need to be considered in concert with businesses and consumers.

“This pilot, I understand, was successful in reducing the number of thefts in the liquor stores that participated,” Sohi said Monday.

“We need to look at that data and we also need to look at the way to consult with the industry and ensure the data privacy issues are dealt with, so engaging with the public on this.

“In my mind, anything that can allow us to improve safety, allow us to reduce pressures on policing, reduce theft at businesses — in this case, liquor stores — we need to explore, but we also need to make sure we’re properly engaging with industry because there’s a cost related to that. Not everyone is doing well… there are businesses that are struggling.”

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Sohi also acknowledged ID scanners may prevent some crime but don’t address the root causes of criminal activity.

“Yes, we need to look at the root causes, but also we need to look into some of the techniques and technology and the ideas that are out there.

“I think this is something worth exploring but absolutely this is something that has to be done in consultation and collaboration with industry.”

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