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The Blackmarsh Road liquor store and two other outlets might overtake the Ropewalk Lane liquor store for the most thefts from a Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) outlet in 2019.
The Ropewalk Lane liquor store, in central St. John’s, held the dubious honour in 2017 and 2018, according to statistics supplied to The Telegram.
As of Nov. 30, however, there were more thefts at the Blackmarsh Road store, followed by outlets at Merrymeeting Road and Howley Estates, also St. John’s stores.
The NLC pinpointed the hour, days, weeks and months most likely to feature liquor store theft, as well as a breakdown of thefts by store, and by dollar amount.
Tony Howley Estates in east-end St. John’s has lost the most so far in terms of dollar value — $6,801 from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30. Grand Falls-Windsor, which had just one theft so far this year, lost a grand total of $30 to theft.
But just because rural areas are less populated and metro areas more dense doesn’t necessarily mean thefts are tied to population — Queen Street, the downtown St. John’s store, for example, had just nine thefts so far this year, Long Pond in busy Conception Bay South had 15 and Stephenville had 23.
The most likely time of year thieves steal from liquor stores? Just before Christmas, and various months of summer, although the trend varied in 2018, when March was a hot month and thefts cooled off in December.
It might have been dreary outside, but November was the hottest month of the year so far in 2019 for booze bandits.
Thefts have been steadily on the rise the last few years, with a total of 497 units (measured as single bottles or cans regardless of liquid capacity) taken in 2017 to 814 so far this year, and the dollar amount of the stolen goods rising from $24,250 in 2017 to $39,972 in 2018 and $44,465 so far this year.
NLC vice-president of regulatory services and social responsibility Sean Ryan said the volume of booze thefts is no different than the loss prevention situation in other retail sectors.
“Overlay any retailer and they will see the same rises and falls for the most part in terms of peaks and valleys in terms of when the thefts are high and when they are not,” Ryan said.
“By and large, when we look at the volume of business that we do, and the loss we do incur, when you look at it comparatively, we are doing OK.”
Security at the stores — including cameras — combined with customer service training and security guard presence, aims to promote deterrence. As it is in many retail settings nowadays, security guards have become a fixture in grocery and other stores.
“When you look at it from an entire retail sector, loss prevention is rampant, particularly around various seasons and times of the year and times of the month,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the corporation is most concerned with the stores being a safe place for customers and staff.
Most of the theft is a snatch-and-grab variety, and the thieves are rarely violent.
Vodka and rum are the most often stolen, as they are easier and more lucrative for thieves to sell.
Ryan, a retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary inspector, said the NLC has a great relationship with both the RNC and the RCMP when it comes to reporting the thefts and seeing them pursued in the justice system.
“Most things we bring to police are dealt with, he said. “We have zero tolerance in dealing with that. It is certainly not going to be open season on the liquor corporation.”
Ryan also noted there’s a balance to be maintained in making products accessible based on customer demand and placing products in locations that aren’t vulnerable to the snatch-and-grabs.
“When you look at the percentage of society stealing, it’s so small. … The average person is God-fearing, law-abiding.”
The thefts range from someone pocketing a mini bottle to more brazen thieves stuffing four or five 60-ounce bottles in a bag and walking out.
“What concerns me about those issues is it’s not so much the volume they are stealing, it’s the bravado that it requires. Those are rare,” Ryan said.
Thieves are also come in all shapes, ages, sizes and manners of dress, from casual to Armani-clad.
"The days are long gone of the stereotypical thief. Who’s that?” Ryan said.
They don’t like to be noticed, so an employee asking them if they need help can be a determent, but Ryan never wants employees to risk their safety to save a product.
There’s also a societal concern about what’s being stolen.
“It’s not like going out and stealing a pair of winter boots. If you go out and steal a bottle of liquor, that bottle of liquor could result in somebody getting drunk behind the wheel,” Ryan said.
“That is why we place great diligence in terms of what we do,” he said, adding it’s a different world when it comes to surveillance.
“Camera security systems out there are so state-of-the-art. Almost every human being on the planet has some of the best photographic equipment in the world in their iPhone, in their cellphones. Everybody has got a camera in this day and age and some sort of recording device. It’s pretty amazing.”
NLC chief operating officer Wally Dicks said in a statement that the value of the thefts compared to overall revenue is tiny, but the effort is huge when it comes to protecting staff.
“While theft, as a percentage of sales, is relatively low (less than one per cent — 0.03 per cent) in our retail stores, NLC takes it very seriously. Stores are equipped with sophisticated camera and security systems and a highly trained workforce. NLC will continue to work to minimize theft and to ensure its employees have a safe workplace,” Dicks stated.
RNC media relations officer James Cardigan said when it comes to theft, the NLC is on top of its game in terms of being able to gather its information quickly to aid the police in investigations.
“We have a very cohesive and co-operative relationship with the NLC, very much an open line of communicating certainly in matters of thefts in stores,” Cadigan said.
NLC Top 10 stores stolen from (most to least) Jan.1-Nov. 30, 2019:
1. Blackmarsh Road, St. John’s (No. 7, 2018; No. 4, 2017)
2. Merrymeeting Road, St. John’s (No. 9, 2018; No. 3, 2017)
3. Howley Estates, St. John’s (No. 2, 2018; No. 5, 2017)
4. Ropewalk Lane, St. John’s (No.1, 2018; No. 1, 2017)
5. Topsail Road, St. John’s (No. 3, 2018; No. 8, 2017)
6. Paradise (No. 15, 2018; No. 16, 2017)
7. Kelsey Drive, St. John’s (No. 8, 2018; No. 7, 2017)
8. Mount Pearl (No. 5, 2018; No. 6, 2017)
9. Pearlgate Plaza, Mount Pearl (No. 6, 2018; No. 17, 2017)
10. Bay Roberts (No. 21, 2018; No. 18, 2017)
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