Shoppers cautioned against taking matters into their own hands to stop Liquor Mart thefts
Published Monday, October 28, 2019 1:59PM CST Last Updated Tuesday, October 29, 2019 11:37AM CST
WINNIPEG -- New video posted to social media that appears to show shoppers physically intervening in a Liquor Mart theft highlights the growing frustration Manitobans are feeling about the problem, but Winnipeg police are warning people it’s not a good idea to get involved.
The issue came to the forefront last year, but the issue hasn’t gone away: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries recently said the rate of theft is as high as it’s ever been, and Winnipeg police said Monday officers are receiving about 10 to 20 reports a day of Liquor Mart thefts.
Store employees and security guards have been told not to physically intervene but it appears some shoppers seem to be disregarding the warning and may be putting themselves at risk by attempting to stop shoplifters.
“As frustrating as it is to see somebody committing a crime in front of you and seemingly get away with no consequence, you need to step back,” said Winnipeg Police Service Const. Jay Murray. “If you witness it, contact the Winnipeg Police Service if it’s here in Winnipeg.
“Don’t intervene. It’s only a matter of time before somebody does and somebody does get hurt and we don’t want to see that happen.”
On Saturday at around 8:30 p.m. a video posted to Facebook shows two people physically intervening with two other people who appeared to be attempting to walk out of a Liquor Mart on Plessis Road without paying for products. The video showed one person being tackled and held to the ground. Winnipeg police couldn’t immediately comment on the specifics of the incident.
Officers said such videos have become increasingly common.
“It certainly feels like they’re a dime a dozen right now,” said Murray. “It seems like every day that there’s another video on social media that’s being shared that shows someone intervening.”
Police noted they’re making arrests every day for liquor thefts.
While they understand people’s frustration, officers said if you do get involved you open yourself up to many risks including injury and civil or criminal liability.
“Individuals have to be careful when making the decision to intervene with either a theft or a robbery happening in front of their eyes,” said Murray. “The first concern is safety. A lot of these individuals are carrying weapons. They can be unpredictable, they can be agitated.”
The thefts are sometimes violent as highlighted in incidents that have occurred over the past week: one involved a gun, one involved a machete and in another incident bottles were used, according to Murray.
“You need to be mindful of that,” he said. “Is your life really worth a bottle of alcohol? And that’s what it comes down to.”
He said in order to make citizen ’s arrests for a property crime you have to be the owner of the property or have lawful possession of it.
“For Liquor Mart robberies where there’s no violence involved, often you don’t meet that threshold and if you’re going to grab on to somebody in those cases there could be civil or criminal liability involved there,” said Murray. “If it’s not a safety concern it could also be a criminal or a civil concern as well.”
According to Canada’s Department of Justice, you must also have authorization by the owner of the property.
For a criminal offence – one involving violence – you may only make a citizen’s arrest if you find a person in the act of committing a crime and arrest them within a reasonable time of the crime occurring.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries speaks out
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries said there are hundreds of incidents each week.
To deal with the problem, it implemented a comprehensive strategy last spring, but it hasn't worked as well as it had hoped as the theft rate is as high as it's ever been.
"We're not giving up,” said Andrea Kowal, director of corporate and public affairs for the Crown corporation. “We haven't stopped exploring all options but we are probably one of the most progressive retailers out there and if there's anything that can be done or will be done we know about it, we've explored it, we've tried it, we're looking at it. Other retailers contact us to see what it is we're doing and the best we've been able to do to this point in time is mitigate the thefts.
"If there was a silver bullet, we would've implemented it by now. There is no one thing that is going to fix this."
Kowal said witnesses who take out their phones to document thefts in progress aren’t helping Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, because stores are equipped with state of the art surveillance systems.
“It’s scary for our staff, it’s scary for a customer to witness, people don’t feel safe,” said Kowal. “The odd thing about that is they are safe if they stay out of the way, you do not want to film these people, you do not want to get in front of them.”
Kowal said people shouldn’t take out their frustrations on store employees, either.
“They’re on the frontlines of not only dealing with the issues of the actual theft but then they’re having to address questions by outraged customers that they’re not doing anything or that they should be stopping someone and it’s really hard for them to explain: step aside, stay out of the way, this isn’t safe.”