With a steady increase in shoplifting in Winnipeg, local businesses are taking different steps to prevent it from happening.

Stats from Winnipeg police show a steady increase in shoplifting over the past three years. In 2016, there were 1855 reported incidents of shoplifting. That number jumped to 2790 shoplifting incidents in 2017. In 2018, from January to November, there were 4465 incidents.

Patrol Sgt. Phil Penner told CTV News the increase can largely be attributed to the meth crisis.

“People are out in the community, they’re trying to get some money for their next fix,” Penner said. “Shoplifting is certainly a way to go about that. They’re going to go in, grab what they can and sell it for a quick buck.”

Along with the businesses suffering losses, Penner said the increase is being felt by police.

“There’s property loss for the stores and then it’s taxing on our resources as well, because we do get these investigations for follow up.”

The Retail Council of Canada works with both law enforcement and businesses across the country. Sonny Brar is the chair of the Loss Prevention Advisory Council, and works with Canadian retailers to track trends.

Brar told CTV News shoplifting has become more sophisticated, with many thieves scoping out the retail area ahead of time.

“If they have a store that they’re targeting, they will come in during regular hours and they will observe CCTV cameras,” said Brar.

Along with the location of cameras, Brar said thieves might look for the placement of convex mirrors, identify blind spots or work in groups to distract staff at a store.

The Retail Council estimates retail theft cost the Manitoba economy $27 million in 2018.

Meanwhile, six Canadian Tire stores in Winnipeg are now using facial recognition software to combat the issue.

In a statement to CTV News, a Canadian Tire spokesperson wrote:

“Facial Recognition software is currently being used solely for loss prevention in six Canadian Tire stores in Winnipeg, and approximately 15% of stores nationally. Each Canadian Tire store is independently operated and it is up to the associate dealer to determine what security measures are implemented in their store.”

When asked if customers are alerted to the use of facial recognition software, a Canadian Tire spokesperson said all stores have visible signage to notify customers about video surveillance.

With privacy laws in place to protect personal information, Pitblado partner Andrew Buck said it’s important to understand how a piece of software works and if customers know about it.

“So if you’ve got a machine that’s taking an image and instantly converting it into a bunch of numbers that can’t be used to determine who the person actually is, then arguably that’s not personal information and so by-the-book privacy laws aren’t going to apply,” Buck said.

“On the other hand if you’re taking pictures: pictures very clearly are personal information. And then there are privacy concerns.”

Downtown Family Foods co-owner Kevin Schmidt said many software programs are too expensive for small business owners. Beyond the regular surveillance cameras he has covering his store, Schmidt said he’s added staff on some shifts. Along with an extra set of hands, Schmidt said the decision provides him with an extra set of eyes in the aisle.

“People who do it, they’re not afraid to do it. They walk in, stuff’s gone, they’re in and out within minutes,” Schmidt said.

Staff at Downtown Family Foods are told not to approach anyone who makes them feel unsafe.

“We try to be as vigilant as we can with shoplifting. You go home at night and you think to yourself ‘what’s going on right now? Is there theft going on in the store? Is the staff ok?’”