Alison Zimmer was out getting groceries in Halifax on Sunday afternoon when she saw a police officer standing guard at her local store's entrance.
"I was really disappointed and angry to see it," she said. "I think it's a really callous response to rising food insecurity."
Several people in Halifax say they've seen armed Halifax Regional Police officers in full uniform patrolling Superstore locations in the municipality in recent days and want to know why they are there.
Zimmer said she approached the officer at the Quinpool Road location to ask a question.
"I was very curious if the city was paying him to be there or Superstore," she said. "But he said that he couldn't answer, which I thought was strange."
Const. John MacLeod said HRP has an extra-duty program staffed by officers who can be requested by businesses, organizations and events to conduct policing on or near their facilities.
"These requests do not draw from our primary policing duties and are only filled if there are officers available from the extra-duty program," MacLeod said.
"Officers working extra duty in grocery stores are required to be in full uniform, which includes their firearm."
He said the business that requests the officer is responsible for the associated costs.
MacLeod directed questions about specific stores to the business.
Mark Boudreau, director of corporate affairs for Loblaw Companies Limited, declined to be interviewed.
"As a company (as with other retailers), we don't comment on the specifics of our various in-store loss prevention or security measures," Boudreau said in an email.
Coun. Lindell Smith, the chair of the police board of commissioners, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
'Kind of shocked'
Kevin Payne said he saw a police cruiser parked out front when he made his way into the Braemar Drive Superstore in Dartmouth on Wednesday. When he went inside, a police officer in uniform was inside standing guard at the entrance.
Payne said the officer walked around several sections of the store "just kind of, you know, checking people out."
Payne said the presence of the officer made him uneasy and "kind of shocked."
"I don't enjoy the idea of a public police service … protecting the interests of a private company," Payne said. "It's a little bit too direct and kind of a signal to me that if you have the money, you can hire police officers."
After the experience, Zimmer said she would consider taking her business elsewhere.
"I would certainly be much more comfortable shopping at a store that doesn't treat their customers as presumed criminals," she said. "I would not shop there but, unfortunately, in many parts of town, they're really the only option."
She added that she's worried about the potential for violence if a confrontation became escalated by having police in the store.
"I don't think this is how we solve poverty and food insecurity," she said, adding that she'd like to see more transparency around the extra duty program.
Halifax Regional Police said data on theft from grocery stores in the municipality is not readily available.
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