'A serious problem': Edmonton saw big jump in shoplifting offences in 2018

Reported shoplifting offences increased by one-third in Edmonton in 2018, leading to a slight increase of the city's crime severity index, despite a drop in the number of homicides.

Decrease in homicides offset by increases in other types of crime, Stats Can reports

Shoplifting is a serious and growing problem in liquor stores, says the Alberta Liquor Store Association. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Reported shoplifting offences increased by one-third in Edmonton in 2018, leading to a slight increase of the city's crime severity index, despite a drop in the number of homicides.

Edmonton's police-reported crime severity index (CSI) was 115 last year, up from 112.3 in 2017, according to data released Monday by Statistics Canada.

Alberta's CSI was 112 in 2018, unchanged from the year before.

CSI measures the number of crimes and how serious they were. The level of seriousness is derived from sentences handed down by the courts. The CSI is expressed as an indexed "score" and measures how crime compares among jurisdictions and over time. A score of 100 is based on the national level of crime severity in 2006.

Police reported 37 homicides in Edmonton in 2018, down from 49 the year before.

The decrease was offset by a significant increase in reporting for three other categories of crime: shoplifting, sexual assault and fraud. 

The shoplifting rate increased by 31 per cent in Edmonton in 2018. The provincial rate increased by 22 per cent during the same period. 

"It's quite a serious problem," said Alberta Liquor Store Association president Ivonne Martinez. "We do have some stores that are losing more money than they are making."

Thefts from liquor stores have become more violent in recent years, said Martinez.

"Perpetrators are coming in and either hurting staff or sometimes even customers."

Shop owners are working with police to try to reduce theft, including installing cameras or bars on windows, or changing the location of tills. 

Clustering liquor stores in certain areas lures in criminals, Martinez said, and the association is lobbying municipalities to enforce a 300-metre buffer zone between stores.

"If you have an area, say like downtown, and you have four liquor stores, one in every corner, it just becomes an easy target," she said. "It's easy for someone to come in and hit all four of them in less than 15 minutes."

Edmonton and Alberta's stable crime rate is a good sign considering the decline in the province's economy, said Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee, who is president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. 

"With the shift in the economy, I think that's a positive," McFee said. 

"However, I don't think any of our chiefs in any of our services are happy. Obviously we want to continue to reduce the numbers."

Police are contending with more crimes related to the use of methamphetamine, indicated Statistics Canada.

"While the rate of methamphetamine possession rose 10 per cent in 2018, the rate of trafficking, production, and importation or exportation was up 23 per cent," said the report.  

Police chiefs across Alberta are working together to try to find different solutions to the growing trend, McFee said. 

"There is a willingness in the province to start looking at this on a collective nature and start to try to figure out how we can actually start to drive those numbers down."

Alberta's crime severity index has been trending up for the last five years, according to Statistics Canada. (CBC)

Police departments across Canada also saw an increase in the number of reported sexual assaults.

Statistics Canada attributed that to an increase in reporting, spurred by the #metoo movement. 

"There were notable increases in police-reported sexual assaults in 2017 and 2018, corresponding in timing to the growing public discussion of issues around sexual violence," said the report.

Lethbridge had the highest CSI of any Canadian census metropolitan area at 137, followed by Regina (127), Winnipeg (119), Saskatoon (118), and Edmonton (115).