New liquor locks at the Rose Street Safeway are designed to prevent theft.
Photo courtesy of Tim Bennett/Walla Walla Police Department
This story has been modified since its original publication.
WALLA WALLA – Another grocery store is locking down its liquor.
Safeway is the latest to put its booze behind locked doors to cut down on theft, the Walla Walla Police Department announced Tuesday.
By today, work was expected to be complete at both the Plaza Way and Rose Street Safeway locations to tighten down access to liquor, police spokesman Tim Bennett said.
Safeway did not respond this morning to a request of comment.
Bennett, who has worked with the local grocery stores lobbying for stricter access to bottles of alcohol, said the step is needed.
“Safeway is a responsible community member that saw a problem and took appropriate actions,” he said.
Thefts have been a problem since the privatization of liquor sales took effect in 2013. But for Safeway’s more than 165 regional stores, Walla Walla’s losses “weren’t even a blip on the radar as far as the level of theft goes.”
“To me that just magnifies how big a problem for safety this is,” Bennett said.
In the first 10 months of 2013, the police department had fielded 68 reports of liquor theft in the city. The majority — 35 — had come between July and October. The thefts in the first half of last year reflected a 175 percent increase in reports of liquor theft compared to the first six months of 2012, when hard alcohol was sold only in the state liquor store.
About three-fourths of the thefts had come from the city’s two Safeway stores, Bennett said at the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean Safeway had more thefts than other stores.
Updated numbers had not been compiled this morning. Even so Bennett doubts they would accurately depict the severity of the problem.
Stores aren’t currently required to report losses to law enforcement.
“No one person has any real grasp of the amount of liquor that’s being stolen,” he said.
He said reports do come in, but many are dependent upon whether security is on hand at any particular time of day.
Some stores have been able to curb theft by using a variety of methods. Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods, for instance, keeps its alcohol behind a counter. Customers must buy it from a clerk in order to access it. At Super 1, where few thefts have been reported, Bennett said the alcohol is located at the front of the store, where a crush of employees can serve as eyes. Albertsons had added a section to lock up alcohol, but only a select array is behind the doors.
In College Place, police Detective Roger Maidment said few reports of thefts have come in from Wal-Mart. But that store, too, has shifted how it offers the selection by relocating the alcohol to another area of the store.
Bennett said stores that don’t have restricted access may experience a spike in thefts as other retailers lock theirs down.
“I think the number of thefts at Safeway is going to be reduced drastically, but those people that are now accustomed to stealing liquor will go to other stores in town where it’s out in the aisle, not under lock and key,” he warned. “Safeway taking the step at both local stores is going to put pressure on the others to do something.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.