It was no surprise a 20-year-old man was arrested over the weekend for stabbing another man at the Country Thunder music festival in Pinal County. News reports tell of an argument escalating into violence. I’d bet excessive and criminal alcohol consumption played a part in this crime.
Country Thunder is well known for its wild parties, exhibitionism, drunkenness and violence. In 2011 an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer and Pinal County sheriff’s deputy were attacked by a drunken crowd resulting in serious injuries to both officers.
We constantly hear about violent outcomes to citizens encountering drunks and DUI drivers, but police officers contact drunks regularly and get hurt and killed. I can recall four officers, three from Tempe and one from Gilbert, in Tempe being seriously injured and killed. Two were shot — one beaten and another run over after their assailants spent the night drinking to excess at local watering holes and boozefests. Officers from Mesa, DPS, Chandler, Phoenix and other agencies have also fallen victim to criminal alcohol abusers in their communities.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s Office for Highway Safety recently awarded an $80,000 grant to Tempe to the city get a handle on its illegal alcohol activities and related crime. Officials said the money would be used for “DUI enforcement downtown and on streets citywide, including to impact Large Party Liquor Enforcement, enhance existing Covert Underage Buyer Program in partnership with the Arizona Department of Liquor License, Control and Investigations, and limit the purchase of alcohol with fraudulent ID in liquor establishments.”
An amount like $80,000 will no doubt help pay the extra overtime in Tempe’s efforts, but what happens when the money is gone? When you’re paying officers $50-$60 an hour in overtime to make arrests and appear in court, the cash will be gone in a flash.
Will there be thousands for Scottsdale to help them with their booze related problems? What about Pinal County’s annual problems at Country Thunder? Will there be money for DPS and surrounding cities to deal with the problems that are pushed out of Tempe and onto the highways and into other cities? I doubt with Arizona’s budget and federal sequestration there’ll be many more handouts.
What’s going to be done long-term?
Does the Legislature need to make the criminal law violations relating to the liquor law enforcement more police friendly versus liquor industry friendly? Should it be easier for officers to make arrests for serving an intoxicated patron or allowing drunks on the premises? Should using a fake ID card to get alcohol be a more serious crime? What about a “sin tax” on alcoholic beverages and liquor licenses to pay for police to enforce liquor laws, grants for assistance, education and treatment of those with alcohol problems?
Should Arizona return liquor law enforcement to DPS and remove it from the state liquor board that’s run by a political appointee? Currently there are only 10 liquor board officers enforcing laws at 11,000 establishments. Should law enforcement “data mine” DUI arrest reports to look for bars that chronically produce drunk drivers? Police officers collect data on where arrested drivers were drinking but the information mostly sits in files and could be used as part of an intelligence led policing effort to prevent crime and target trouble spots. Bars have long been havens for money laundering, drugs, stolen property and the sex trade and with little or no liquor law enforcement these kinds of crimes have only flourished. Should liquor law enforcement be a higher priority for law enforcement?
There’s no question the criminal use of alcohol in Arizona has contributed to crime.
The question is, does Arizona and its cities really want to get serious about confronting alcohol related crime and the misery it causes?
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.