Liquor retailer cheered by dramatic drop in thefts at stores testing ID scanner technology

The use of technology that requires patrons to scan their ID before entering a liquor store has led to reduced thefts in the locations where it was installed, according to Alberta’s largest alcohol retailer.

Growth of pilot project will wait until privacy commissioner's inquiry complete

Thefts are down in three Edmonton liquor stores where patrons were required to scan their ID before entering, according to owner James Burns. (CBC)

The use of technology that requires patrons to scan their ID before entering a liquor store has led to reduced thefts in the locations where it was installed, according to Alberta's largest alcohol retailer. 

"Crime has been drastically reduced, both thefts and robberies," said James Burns, CEO of the liquor retailer Alcanna. "It was significant."

Alcanna, which owns Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor and Wine and Beyond stores, installed the ID scanners in three locations in January in response to a spike in liquor store thefts across Alberta over the previous 18 months. 

Statistics from Edmonton police confirmed Burns' statement, noting a 91 per cent decrease in liquor theft at the three locations using ID scanners. 

Alcanna planned on including more stores in a pilot project but has held off while Alberta's information and privacy commissioner conducts an investigation to ensure the scanner technology complies with privacy laws, said Burns. 

"The proper thing to do was just to stop until that was looked into," he said. 

The investigation is ongoing and a public report will be issued sometime this summer, the privacy commissioner's office told CBC. 

The reduction in thefts is encouraging but it's too soon to draw conclusions, said Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association. 

COVID-19 restrictions may have played a role in altering people's behaviour, she said.

"It changed the equation of how things we're happening. We just need to be careful when making claims that thefts have gone down at a time that's not normal," Martinez said. 

An ID card reader outside of an Ace Liquor store in northeast Edmonton. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"We'll look at expanding the program once we have direction from the privacy commissioner."

Having more stores participate in the program will help determine if the ID scanners are reducing liquor store thefts overall, Burns said. 

"Right now, it's anecdotal," Burns said. "Maybe all we've done is pushed the criminals to go somewhere else."

Reducing liquor store thefts won't be accomplished with ID scanners alone, said Martinez, who sits on a provincial working group tasked with looking at the problem.  

"I don't think we will address this issue if we only look at it from one dimension," she said. "We need to bring all the stakeholders together."

The group is almost done its work and will soon submit recommendations to Alberta Justice, said MLA Brad Rutherford who is chair of the group. 

Recommendations will "focus on prevention, law enforcement response and what we can do to assist prosecutions services," Rutherford said in a statement. 

Burns is hopeful that the collaboration between industry, government and police will lead to a safer work environment for his employees. 

"Otherwise, somebody is going to get hurt. We've had so many close calls."


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