EDMONTON -- ID-scanning technology widely used in nightclubs is coming to at least one Edmonton liquor store in a pilot program aimed at curbing an "epidemic" of thefts, police announced Monday.

In 2019, police in the city responded to more than 9,500 thefts from liquor stores, or an average of 26 per day. That was triple the 3,273 liquor store thefts seen in 2018.

Alcanna Inc., which owns Liquor Depot, Ace Liquor and Wine and Beyond, calls the sharp spike in thefts concerning.

“These robberies are increasingly endangering the safety of liquor store employees and customers and costing millions of dollars as well as fueling the drug trade and organized crime gangs," said Joe Cook, Alcanna Inc. vice-president of Loss Prevention.

The company, in partnership with Edmonton Police Service, has reacted by installing a PatronScan entry system at one store in northeast Edmonton.

The ID verification system has customers scan identification like a driver's licence to gain entry to the store. If valid ID is not scanned, the doors to the store remain locked.

"Just as was done with pre-pay and pay at the pump for gas stations, we are hoping PatronScan creates a safer shopping experience for our customers and staff," Cook said.

He said Alcanna isn't just combatting shoplifting with the new technology.

"On a daily basis, the EPS and our team in the stores experience how things escalate with crimes and robberies perpetrated in liquor stores. This is not shoplifting. It is robbery with real or threatened violence," said Cook.

Addressing privacy concerns, Alcanna said customers' identification information won't be stored in devices themselves, rather, they'll be kept in a restricted-access data centre.

"It stays in the system for 90 days that PatronScan has it. They've been working with privacy offices in Alberta, Canada, across North America, to make sure this all privacy-compliant with both laws and norms of society," Cook said. "It's not accessed unless there's a crime in which case law enforcement will have access."

Alcanna said it is the first retailer in the province to offer PatronScan technology and that other local liquor stores have considered following suit.

Police welcomed the news, saying the ramp-up of liquor store thefts have been a burden on police resources.

"We can no longer do business this way with the way we are sending out our patrol members, our frontline members," said Const. Robin Wilson. "When they go to these thefts, without an arrest even involved...it takes about an hour-and-a-half of an officer's time to complete these investigations."

She said such investigations cost the department millions of dollars annually.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer also announced the formation of a working group to examine what's behind the spike in liquor store-related crime.

The working group will be chaired by Leduc-Beaumont MLA Brad Rutherford, who served as a member of EPS for 10 years, and includes members from law enforcement, the liquor industry, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

Aside from the identification lock, the group will also look at other security features, enforcement, legal and deterrence measures to identify the best way to combat liquor store theft.