'Substantial increase' in demand for officers in stores tied to spike in theft: Winnipeg police

There's a direct correlation between a rise in retail theft and increased demand for special duty officers patrolling stores, a Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Retail thefts reported to police more than doubled from 2014 to September 2019, says Winnipeg Police Service

Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Jay Murray said retailers need to introduce their own anti-theft measures instead of relying on special duty police officers at their stores. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

There's a direct correlation between a rise in retail theft and increased demand for special duty officers patrolling stores, a Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson says.

In the last five years, the number of retail thefts reported to police in Winnipeg has more than doubled, Const. Jay Murray said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. The number rose from 2,855 in 2014 to 6,569 from the beginning of January to the end of September 2019.

Murray said there has been a similar jump in the number of stores in the city asking for special duty police officers — off-duty officers hired by a company or organization — to patrol their businesses.

"It is a big problem," he said. "I think once you put that into a graph, you're going to see [there has been] a significant and substantial increase."

Murray said annual retail thefts have spiked in the last two years. Before that, the number held steady under 3,000 — with 2,967 thefts reported in in 2015 and 2,647 in 2016.

In 2017, the number climbed to 3,709 retail thefts in Winnipeg, and in 2018, it shot to 5,989, he said.

Even the added police presence isn't enough to stop some thieves, Murray said. Special duty officers working at retail stores usually make at least one arrest per shift.

"So it still happens, even when a marked cruiser car and two officers are greeting people when they enter."

Usually, the special duty officers in stores only act when they're alerted to possible theft or suspicious activity by store employees, he said.

"There's got to be some kind of suspicion, reasonable suspicion, if we're going to detain someone," Murray said.

Keeping officers in stores unsustainable

Special duty officers are hired in their off-duty hours to work at retailers like Liquor Marts and Real Canadian Superstore, and at events like Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers games, Murray said.

Businesses that hire the officers pay them starting at $112 an hour — and approximately an extra $33 for a cruiser car to be parked out front, he said.

Murray said having a police presence in stores is appealing to some retailers because it can help deter would-be thieves, but he said it's not a sustainable solution.

"Retailers have to institute some anti-theft measures," he said. "They can't just continue to rely on special duty."

According to statistics provided to CBC News by the Winnipeg Police Service, 481 special duty officers and 31 cruiser cars have been requested for December — a jump in the number of officers requested Murray said can, in part, be attributed to the holiday season. 

"Hopefully those numbers will start to drop after," he said.

By comparison, there were 310 requests for officers and 129 requests for cars in October. In November, those numbers were 373 and 161, according to the police service.

Murray said while there are rules around how many special duty shifts officers are allowed to pick up outside their scheduled shifts, the increasing demand for special duty can lead to burnout.

"It starts to take a toll on you," he said. "I've felt it firsthand myself. I've worked a number of events, especially in November and December."

Advocates have raised concerns about adding police officers to retail stores, including the potential for racial profiling and the failure to address the root causes of crime.


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