Public relations responsiveness during crime spikes: How and to what extent do social media and news-reporting exacerbate liquor-store thefts in Winnipeg?




For a period of approximately 18-months, the city of Winnipeg experienced an alarming spike in Liquor Mart thefts, that took a toll on the Winnipeg Police Service workforce because of the sheer number of investigations opened due to these crimes. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries management were reeling from the impacts of these thefts on customers, employees, and their bottom line. Communications Director Andrea Kowall stated at a news conference on October 28, 2019, that she believed news reporting and social media posts by civilians were factors that contributed to the theft surges. This exploratory, single case study sought to examine how and to what extent social media and news reporting exacerbated liquor-store thefts at Liquor Marts in Winnipeg through the social phenomenon of theft and robbery crime spikes between August 31, 2018, and December 1, 2019. The social phenomenon provided an environment to analyze steps taken by policing organizations in situations impacting public safety. 

Interviews and a questionnaire were utilized to explore the Balance Zone Theory as it applied in this situational context. Crisis communications tactics such as social media were explored as well as testing for the presence of news waves by examining published articles in a chronological sequence. This case study could provide valuable insights to policing organizations implicated in media hypes when coupled with incidents of public interference in crime situations through the use of social media.  

Keywords: policing, crisis communications, balance zone theory, public relations, stealing thunder, news waves, social media