A veteran Toronto police officer says thieves are treating vulnerable LCBO stores like their personal “ATM machines” but he doesn’t think more paid duty officers is the answer.
Neil Corrigan, Unit Commander at 14 Division, says he’s seen first-hand the startling spike in thefts at LCBOs, in his division, and across the city.
“Since at least 2017 we had about 5,000 (LCBO thefts) throughout the city. Last year, in 2018, it went up to about 8,600 so that’s a significant increase,” he said.
“Unfortunately the reality is that street people, persons with drug dependencies, alcohol dependencies, have come to believe that LCBOs are simply their ATM machines. They can go in there without harassment, take alcohol, go out and either consume it or sell it for drugs … and it’s adding, quite frankly in my opinion, to some of the disorder issues that we are experiencing.”
Corrigan says organized theft rings are also stealing booze and selling it, sometimes to licenced establishments.
“They travel throughout the city and exploit vulnerable liquor stores and they will go in with suitcases, duffel bags, open them up, fill them up and walk right out.
“They (licenced establishments) will take it in the back door and sell it. The majority don’t, but there are some that will take it in the back door and sell it at a great discount for them to maximize their profits.”
Despite the escalating thefts, Corrigan doesn’t believe hiring more paid duty officers is the best solution.
While he acknowledges that the presence of officers can be an effective deterrent, he believes the costs are unsustainable. He puts much of the onus on the LCBO to find more cost-efficient ways to prevent theft.
“If I was looking at the cost effectiveness of it, I would be looking at the utilization of some more appropriate means, perhaps security officers,” he said. “I think they (police) could perhaps be better used in other areas.”
“Criminals, in my experience, look for vulnerabilities. The fact that liquor stores are not taking a proactive stance to protect their product has created a vulnerability.”
In a statement to CityNews, the LCBO says it has taken measures to try to get a handle on the problem.
Aside from increasing security personnel at high-traffic locations, the LCBO says it has also implemented new technology to combat theft, and continues to train employees on how to take safe actions and be credible witnesses when a theft occurs.
“The LCBO will continue to explore ways to be even more vigilant and further review new technology and processes to deter theft in all LCBO locations.”
The LCBO says that since April 2018, LCBO contract security and Toronto police have arrested more than 950 store theft suspects in Toronto, resulting in more than 1,300 charges.
No charges were laid during the recent takedown of a theft suspect at the LCBO store at Yonge and Dundas streets that was captured on video, a fact that peeved Corrigan.
“If there’s no consequences this issue will not go away,” he said.
The video shows an officer taking a suspect to the ground. Corrigan alleged the suspect had alcohol he didn’t pay for in his possession. When asked if the use of force was appropriate, Corrigan vehemently defended the officer, saying the 11 second clip didn’t show the full context of the interaction.
“I have reviewed it. The person was non-compliant,” he argued. “The officer had an interaction with him longer than the 11 seconds (shown in the video), and we have to keep that in context.”
“The officer took him to the ground where he could subdue him … the officer did comply with our procedures and the officer in my opinion did a bang up job.”
An unapologetic Corrigan warned potential LCBO thieves that they could face the same fate if they resist arrest.
“If you do not comply…(our officers) are going to use force and they will.”
CityNews asked the LCBO why it didn’t pursue charges in that incident, but did not receive a response.