Food and retail theft hitting Winnipeg businesses hard this holiday season

Theft has become not just a daily problem for many Winnipeg businesses but an hourly one.

One local grocery store owner said he had dealt with at least six shoplifters within the first few hours his two stores were open Monday.

Read more: Shoplifting is underreported in Manitoba, retail council says

“Ridiculous,” said Food Fare owner Munther Zeid. “That’s like almost one an hour.”

Zeid said in many cases the shoplifting is brazen and bold and that thieves are rarely trying to be sneaky anymore.

Munther Zeid, the owner of the ‘Food Fare’ grocery store chain in Winnipeg. Michael Draven / Global News

“How many blocks of cheese do you need to eat? It’s multiples.. it’s like four or five of this, five of that,” he said.

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“We had a couple that came in, literally, half an hour ago. They stole, we took it from them and they still ask if they can continue shopping. Really?”

Retail theft continues to be a major problem that costs businesses big bucks every year.

The Retail Council of Canada recently told Global News roughly $200 million in goods was stolen a year pre-pandemic. However, with the rising costs of living that figure is skyrocketing.

Click to play video: 'Shoplifting is underreported in Manitoba, retail council says'

Shoplifting is underreported in Manitoba, retail council says

“Every time the economy is weaker, we see theft increase,” the prairie region director of government relations John Graham said.

Graham also said almost 30 per cent of thefts go unreported because businesses know police are too busy to respond.

“There’s high priority issues that they’re focused on and (they) can’t attend every incident,” he said. “The gap has been that retailers haven’t been reporting incidents except for those that are more violent, those that are more destructive.”

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Read more: Manitoba retailers warned to watch for theft as holiday shopping season kicks off

It’s one reason the Retail Council of Canada is spearheading a pilot project that launched in September. The group is working with a number of retailers, the RCMP, the Winnipeg Police Service and other stakeholders to try to gather as much data about all thefts over a period of time. The information gets forwarded to police and the data is analyzed.

“To mine data essentially and see the patterns between individuals that are occurring.,” he said.

For example, one thief may shoplift from multiple retailers and they all may seem like minor incidents. Each is reported.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba retailers warned to watch for theft as holiday shopping season kicks off'

Manitoba retailers warned to watch for theft as holiday shopping season kicks off

“(They’re) still pulling a knife, there’s threats, shoving… But all of a sudden, you’ve got this aggregate amount of incidents from one individual and it allows you to better understand what’s happening in the retail environment.”

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Graham said a small number of prolific offenders account for roughly 80 per cent of all thefts.

Read more: Winnipeg convenience store employee robbed at knifepoint: police

“If we can get that small group, that 10 per cent off the streets, then we create a safer environment for retailers, for retail employees or consumers,” he said, adding it also creates a ripple effect in the community.

“They’re not only victimizing retail environments, they’re also creating incidents in other stores or other businesses in on the street.”

Click to play video: 'Retail Theft Rising in Manitoba'

Retail Theft Rising in Manitoba

The goal is to not only identify those problem individuals but to create a new response plan for other, less violent incidents that wouldn’t need to involve police.

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“Assess really what are the who are the more prolific and who are the more violent and who are the ones that are simply bad characters as opposed to situational incidents, mental health, addictions, homelessness, all those that need to be dealt with in a different way, more compassionately,” he said.

Read more: Gimli RCMP looking for robbery suspect following machete incident

Graham said he expects they will have some data from the pilot project to share in mid-January.

The Winnipeg Police Service refused an interview request made by Global News to speak about the project and the current landscape of shoplifting in the city.

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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