Retail theft is not only pervasive, but can be extremely difficult to control. Just ask the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor retailer, which is in the midst of a crime spree-related crisis plaguing key outlets across the Greater Toronto Area—a problem that could, at least in part, be of its own making.
When the Toronto Star first reported on the phenomenon of brazen daylight thefts at LCBO locations, many of us in the security industry shrugged. The incidents were no surprise given the lack of in-store security at most of the organization’s stores. According to statistics unearthed by the Star, LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014. That’s a staggeringly high number, but the data are even more harrowing, according to the Star’s reporting:
“In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.”
The problem has become so bad that school principals have reportedly complained to police that, in some cases, their minor students are shoplifting liquor ‘with impunity.’ What’s to blame for this dramatic increase in theft?
First, the LCBO has a strict no-intervention policy in place regarding in-store pilfering. Staff members are forbidden from intervening when a robbery occurs. This has resulted in bizarre (and in the case of some stores, almost daily) examples of LCBO workers literally being forced to stand by and watch as thieves walk into their stores with duffel bags or backpacks, which they promptly fill with merchandise, before making an exit. Some are so bold as to take their time and leave the targeted store at their leisure.
Aside from the cost to the provincial treasury of losing millions of dollars in merchandise each year to preventable theft, the costs are much greater. LCBO employees report regularly being threatened by thieves—in some cases with needles or knives—and being forced to deal with smashed bottles left in the wake of these brazen robberies. Demoralized and frightened, these staffers have taken to whistleblowing through the media to make their voices heard. How long, they wonder, before a customer or employee gets seriously hurt?
The bigger challenge is a certain apathy at the C-suite level across the LCBO, not to mention on the part of the Toronto Police Service, whose experimentation with no-response retail theft policies sends a clear message to criminals: LCBO stores are open for illicit business. With some products such as rare scotches priced at several hundred (or thousands) of dollars, liquor stores are prime, easy targets. LCBO leadership has only recently announced its intention to add a stronger security presence at some GTA stores. Hopefully the move has the desired operational impact.
To be clear, ‘No touch/No chase’ policies are not exclusive to the LCBO. They have been embraced by risk- and liability-weary organizations for years, and for good reason. Staff are not trained police or security professionals. They risk personal injury—or worse—in making ill-advised, if admirable, attempts to stop a theft in progress. These policies, in other words, exist for a reason.
But it’s incumbent upon upper management at retail organizations such as the LCBO to take action and ensure their stores are protected at all times. That often means taking a holistic, integrated approach, introducing everything from the latest in high-definition digital cameras with facial-recognition software to spot known malfeasants before they can pilfer goods, to having a security presence on-site at all times in higher-risk areas—and those aren’t limited to economically-disadvantaged communities. The LCBO data shows that shoplifting is rampant even in more prosperous neighbourhoods.
Having experienced, professional guards on site sends a message to would-be shoplifters that their activities won’t be tolerated. And yes, deterrence does work. Will it necessarily stop attempted robberies altogether? Obviously not, but criminals will think twice before trying to lift a rare bottle of Glenlivet. More so if they know that police will arrive on scene if a theft is in progress or has just occurred.
Ignoring brick-and-mortar security needs is common in the digital era when an increasing percentage of retailers’ budgets are being directed to preventing fast-growing challenges such as cyber theft and fraud. But as long as business is being conducted in the offline world, organizations need to be prepared to protect their property and their people.
Winston Stewart, President and CEO