EDMONTON -- Thefts from liquor stores are on the rise, not just in Edmonton, but across the province.

The Edmonton Police Foundation is now working with MacEwan University to draw attention to the problem, while renewing calls to outfit liquor stores with ID scanners at store entrances.

“The problem is out of control, especially in the province of Alberta,” said Taylor Mann of Alcanna Inc.

In 2019, nearly 9,600 stores were targeted. That’s three times as many as 2018. Alcanna Inc. owns some of those stores.

“We’ve had loss prevention officers stabbed in the face; we’ve had bear spray deployed multiple times. A lot of time it’s completely unprovoked as well and that’s where it becomes quite concerning,” Mann said.

“The personal toll it’s taken on our staff and even customers. We have customers coming in our stores and they’ve been put in harms way.”

“It’s not just one person going in and stealing one bottle, it’s organized crime groups going in and stealing large amounts of alcohol,” said Heather Braid of MacEwan University.

The university has now teamed up with the Edmonton Police Foundation to create an awareness campaign, asking bars that buy from legitimate sources to display a badge.

“That’s one way that the public can know that they are committed to buying legally sourced liquor,” Braid said.

“They have scheduled deliveries, whether a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, but during normal hours. If you see a shipment coming in Friday at midnight that’s not a legit shipment,” said Ashif Mawji, Edmonton Police Foundation chair.

Officials say organized crime groups will often target people desperate for cash.

“Gangs are hiring potentially addicts, people that are in desperate need for cash, and they’re saying to them here’s a list. Here’s the things that I want you to go and steal,” said Mawji.

Awareness is just one way to stop the problem. Many bottles and cans are equipped with tracking devices, according to police.

“You can actually track the whole movement and how long it stays in one place so you know the whole eco-system, you know what’s happening.”

“If you take away the market and make it safer for employees and people within these stores and we’re seeing some early successes, and big successes,” said Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee.

Those successes are a 94 per cent drop in thefts at the three Edmonton stores that are using entrance identification systems.

“That should be available to every liquor store because what it really does is it makes people think twice about doing it because they’re going to be a lot easier to catch.”

Six more stores in Edmonton and four in Calgary will start using the ID entrance systems in the coming weeks. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson