Edmonton police calling on city council to implement ID scanning to enter all liquor stores in effort to deter theft

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Edmonton’s police service is calling for a city-wide ID scanning requirement at all liquor store entrances in an effort to deter violent thefts.

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Having seen a 94 per cent reduction in thefts during the first two years of a pilot across seven Alcanna-owned liquor stores in the city, the service is hoping to see the controlled entrance program expand to all retailers. This requirement could be implemented by city council through changes to the business licence bylaw.

Controlled entrances require patrons to scan a piece of government-issued ID to confirm its validity before the door is unlocked and customers are allowed to enter. Edmonton police Const. Ben Davis said the data clearly shows the program has helped to reduce the liquor theft problem, also pointing to a complete elimination of violent events at these stores.

But there were still 3,208 theft events at other locations in Edmonton last year, which Davis said can be addressed if the security measure were expanded. The scanner is able to determine if ID is fraudulent or if an individual is underage and the doors won’t unlock. If a crime were to occur, Davis said the ID scanner would allow police to use the information during an investigation to track down the offenders. The scanner collects a patron’s name, age and photo and after 21 days the information is erased unless required by police in an investigation after obtaining a warrant.

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“It’s a no-brainer. It needs to be a standard in the industry and we need a leader to step up, take control and recognize the value this brings,” he said in an interview with Postmedia.

Davis is hoping this leader will be Edmonton city council by approving changes to the business licence requirements for all private liquor retail stores. In order to better gauge how residents would feel about this requirement, the city has launched a survey on behalf of EPS to get the public’s input on this potential change. The survey asks residents about their perception of safety in liquor stores and if they would feel comfortable scanning ID in order to enter.

“It’s irrefutably effective at increasing public safety within the liquor store retail environment and we just want to ensure it’s ingestible by the public as a security standard,” he said. “Is the public willing to take a few seconds to scan an ID that has the potential to save a life?”

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But Alberta Liquor Store Association president Ivonne Martinez said not all liquor stores are seeing high levels of crime and doesn’t want a uniform rule that could cost small retailers thousands of dollars to implement. Instead, she said she would like to see police come up with another plan to allocate more resources to respond to these calls and clamp down on theft offenders, rather than implement this new measure on the industry.

“To force a small retailer to have an entrance like that when they feel they don’t need it and spend quite a bit of money on it, not all liquor stores are doing extremely well and the smaller ones are still kind of going day by day, so any extra expenditures in the thousands would be a difference for them,” she said.

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Liquor store thefts ramped up in 2019 with more than 9,000 cases, a 300 per cent increase from 2018. These numbers dipped a bit in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions closing restaurants and bars, reducing the clientele that people would sell the stolen liquor to, Davis said.

If expanded to all liquor stores, the police service is anticipating savings between $1 million and $4 million that can be reallocated to other needs and free up officers. But Davis said the most important outcome would be from the community safety perspective and preventing any deaths from occurring.

The city’s survey is open until end of day Tuesday.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3 

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