Between 2015 and 2019, liquor thefts and robberies in Edmonton increased from 488 to 9,595 annually.

Solving Edmonton’s liquor store theft problem

September 15, 2020 | Society, Business
A MacEwan University Social Innovation Institute (SII) team is preparing to pilot its proposed solution to skyrocketing thefts and robberies in Edmonton’s liquor stores. Over the past five years, thefts of alcohol have increased from 488 to 9,595 annually, many involving groups of thieves with ties to organized crime.

Rather than relying solely on technology-focused, in-store interventions like identification scanning, multiple door locks or bottle caps that can only be unlocked by cashiers, the SII team turned to the tools they use when working with entrepreneurs, not-for-profit organizations and governments interested in solving social problems or effecting social change.

Using data provided by the Edmonton Police Foundation and Alcanna (Alberta’s largest liquor retailer), they put together a holistic picture of the situation – creating a digital map of where thefts occurred, researching organized crime, trying to understand the motivation of the people purchasing the stolen liquor and looking for potential points of intervention.

“We decided to focus on the point of resale for the stolen goods, which is typically bars, restaurants and even other liquor store owners,” explains Heather Braid, academic lead for the Social Innovation Institute (SII). “Cutting off the point of sale by making it undesirable for bars and restaurants to purchase stolen alcohol will take away the motivation to steal.”

The team’s multi-pronged approach was selected from entries submitted by teams representing five continents. “We’re excited to see how a home-grown solution, which was selected out of 222 other submissions from around the world, can be commercialized to help decrease liquor store theft while increasing community safety far beyond the borders of Edmonton,” says Ashif Mawji, Chair of the Edmonton Police Foundation.

The SII’s submission centres on a high-profile campaign to build public awareness of the problem and reward reporting of illegal purchases. Now, the team is preparing to test the approach with a field trial and inviting MacEwan’s students, faculty and staff to get involved.

“We hope to leverage the resources at MacEwan in research, marketing, criminology, psychology and ethnography to put together the best field trial possible,” says Braid.

The project exemplifies the opportunities the SII can provide for faculty, staff, and students, says Dr. Wanda M. Costen, dean and professor in the university’s School of Business. “It is also a great example of how post-secondary institutions can positively impact the communities we serve.”

The SII received a $25,000 award in advance of the field trial, and if it proves successful in reducing robberies and thefts, the project could result in a total award of up to $250,000 from the Edmonton Police Foundation and Alcanna.

But Braid says the prize money isn’t the team’s main motivation.

“Liquor store thefts fuel organized crime and impact the safety of liquor store employees and customers – people who are part of our communities,” says Braid. “The Social Innovation Institute’s focus is on urban wellness, and we’re always looking for ways to make urban centres better places for everyone who lives and works in them.”

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