Thieves raising a glass to LCBO policy
Theft is on the rise at the LCBO, a staffer tells the Sun. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)
Thieves walk into an LCBO, grab a shopping bag and fill it.
Often the bottles are in the $40 to $80 range — Bacardi, Smirnoff, Grey Goose and other popular brands — and they’re swiped daily by the dozens.
Shoplifters confidently make their way to the exit, not even approaching the check-out.
Within seconds, they’ve made their getaway.
And they know LCBO employees can’t do anything to stop them.
According to the LCBO’s theft policy, workers shall not attempt to detain or arrest thieves. They’re suppose to alert police or security personnel.
“It’s very clear they know there’s a loophole,” said a Toronto-area LCBO employee, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity.
“My concern is with the more brazenness, there’s more violence. Most thieves try to keep it as low-key as possible. We’re seeing thefts — and I’ve talked to people at several different stores — and they don’t care who sees them.
“They’ll yell at you, there’s implied violence,” the worker added. “They’ll yell, ‘Don’t you f------ come near me.’ The body language is clearly designed to make sure no one interferes with them.”
The employee claimed there has not only been an increase of thefts over the past six months, but the shoplifting efforts appear to be turning into a larger-scale enterprise.
“The consensus is these people are stealing to re-sell. These aren’t alcoholics,” the worker said.
The employee said workers are annually shown a training video on how to handle shoplifters. However, if a more aggressive thief confronts a staff member, employees can get into hot water with head office if they intervene, the worker said.
Theft policy documents obtained by the Toronto Sun through the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which oversees LCBO employees, confirmed workers are to “not attempt to detain or arrest the shop theft suspect.”
“Employees are advised never to physically touch, control, detain, apprehend or arrest any person for the purpose of managing a shop theft situation,” according to the resource protection manual. “Employees must not place themselves or others at risk by leaving the store to pursue an individual in an effort to retrieve stolen product(s).”
Instead, employees are encouraged to provide “engaging customer service” as a way to deter stealing. But if an employee tries to intervene, “failure to comply with this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”
The LCBO refused comment on whether thefts are up, but said the agency has taken many actions to deal with shoplifters.
“Tactics, policies and procedures to prevent shop theft are regularly reviewed and adjusted where circumstances indicate such a need,” spokesman Christine Bujold said. “Like any retailer, to protect the integrity and effectiveness of these theft prevention and countermeasures, we cannot go into the specific details.”
Bujold said the LCBO’s shrinkage rate is “well below” the Canadian retail industry average, but to combat shoplifting, they have uniformed and plainclothes security guards, as well as uniformed and plainclothes police officers, in stores where they have identified potential higher risk of theft.
“In addition, security cameras and other countermeasures have been installed throughout the 654-store network,” she said.
OPSEU communications director Bob Eaton said security can always be beefed up — especially when it comes to alcohol and the likely sale of legal marijuana in the future.
“There’s big money at stake and when it comes to any kind of shopkeeper, whether it’s the LCBO or working in a retail environment, the police give good counsel that let the police do their work,” Eaton said. “We certainly wouldn’t be counselling our members to intervene and then dying over a bottle of vodka.”
David Hyde, a Toronto-based loss prevention and security expert, said when the industry sees an “eruption” of these types of incidents, it tends to be a small number of perpetrators that are “dialled in on a weakness in the system.”
“They need to have done a deep-dive analysis of these incidents and need to double or triple the loss prevention staff across the higher-risk stores because they need to start apprehending these individuals,” he added.
Toronto Police Const. Victor Kwong said the force is not aware of any increase in booze thefts.
BOTTLE LOCKS AS DETERRENT
The LCBO is trying out bottle locks it hopes may prevent less booze from getting in the coat pockets of thieves.
The agency started putting lock devices on their products in a pilot project late last year, but is keeping mum on the details.
“Like any retailer, to protect the integrity and effectiveness of this and other theft prevention and countermeasures, we can’t go into the specific details,” LCBO spokesman Christine Bujold said.
Similar to clothing security tags, the plastic locks are attached to the top of best-selling brands, many in the rum and vodka categories, and can only be removed by staff at the cash.
“Some actions have been in place for many years, while others are relatively new, reflecting the application of new and improved technology and new learning,” Bujold said of the bottle locks.
FROM THE LCBO'S RESOURCE PROTECTION MANUAL:
- The objective of the LCBO’s Shop Theft Policy is to “manage shop theft situations in a manner that does not endanger employees or customers.”
- “When shop theft occurs, employees must not attempt to detain or arrest the shop theft suspect. Employees are advised never to physically touch, control, detain, apprehend or arrest any person for the purpose of managing a shop theft situation.”
- “Employees must not place themselves or others at risk by leaving the store to pursue an individual in an effort to retrieve stolen product(s). Note: Leaving the confines of the store places employees, colleagues, customers and the community at risk.”
- Employees are supposed to provide “engaging customer service” as a deterrent. When they suspect a theft is happening, they should “observe selection and observe concealment and maintain constant visual observation to the point of purchase.”
- While remaining in the store, employees are urged to get a description of the make and model of the suspect’s vehicle and licence plate number. They are to call the police and security staff.
- “Failure to comply with this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”