WINNIPEG -- A troubling trend appears to be taking a violent turn in Winnipeg.

On Thursday night, Winnipeg police responded to three separate robberies at Liquor Marts across the city. In an incident on Henderson Highway, pepper spray was used inside the busy store, while a suspect threw a bottle at a customer in the Grant Park location, and a gun was pulled during a robbery at the Ellice Avenue location. 

“I think we would need a little more time to see if this is a blip, an aberration, or if it’s in fact indicative of what is a trend, where violence is becoming more common in this type of incident,” said Const. Rob Carver of the Winnipeg Police Service. 

He said on average, officers are dealing with 10 to 20 shoplifting incidents daily at liquor stores. Carver said in these cases, people typically run in and out of the store within seconds or minutes, and steal hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars’ worth of alcohol. 

“Unfortunately, while it’s alarming, it’s just all too common now,” said Carver.

Coun. Markus Chambers, who is also the vice chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, said he’s been hearing from Winnipeggers who have witnessed these crimes.

“It’s a matter now that we’re going into the holiday season, and things are going to get busier,” said Chambers. “People are becoming concerned for their personal safety.”

Chambers said while these incidents aren’t under the city’s jurisdiction, safety is. He’s also been given no shortage of suggestions from people on what they think can be done.

“Whether it’s lockable vestibules, whether it’s turnstiles, whether it’s going back to the old consumer distributing days,” Chambers said. 

Police said it’s important people don’t take matters into their own hands if they happen to witness shoplifting, and to put your phone away to avoid becoming an unintended target. 

“I’ve talked to my own family about it, and cautioned them,” said Carver. “If you see something happening, just get out of the way, and move to a safe location, and that’s the same comment for any robbery anywhere.”

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said it recently met with senior management with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries to underscore the severity and urgency of this crisis situation.

“We have individuals stealing products right off the shelves and not thinking twice about it because of a lack of consequences. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure safety in the workplace is upheld and I plan on bringing this concern to the Premier’s attention when we meet in the coming weeks,” said union president Michelle Gawronsky. 

A spokesperson for Liquor and Lotteries said it’s still implementing additional measures in an attempt to decrease these types of incidents. The spokesperson didn’t say exactly what those measures are, but said they will continue to work with law enforcement, other retailers, and security experts to explore all options.